The good news: Childhood lead poisoning cases have been cut enormously. The bad news: Preventable lead poisoning robs America of $50.9 billion in lost economic productivity as the pollutant destroys the intellectual potential of affected children.
That's only one of the cost estimates coming out in a new paper by Leonardo Trasande, MD, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Yinghua Liu, MD, a scientist with the National Children's Study. Starting with the dollars that a healthy person would generate in their lifetime, the scientists calculated how downtime and early death resulting from toxic chemicals like lead and mercury in the environment costs the whole society.
The economic productivity losses that pollution causes totalled $76.6 billion at the end of the analysis, or 3.5 percent of all U.S. healthcare costs in 2008. Trasande commented in a press release that:
despite previous efforts to curb their use, toxic chemicals have a major impact on health care costs and childhood morbidity... The prevalence of chronic childhood conditions and costs associated with them may continue to rise if this issue is not addressed."
The study updates a previous estimate based on 1997 data conducted by Philip Landrigan, MD. In a separate article in the same issue of Health Affairs, Landrigan suggests three efforts that, if pursued seriously, could greatly reduce the effects of toxic chemicals on children's health and the associated costs to society:
- Require the examination of chemicals already on the market for potential toxicity, starting with the chemicals in widest use, using new, more efficient toxicity testing technologies.
- Check all new chemicals for toxicity before they are allowed to enter the marketplace, and maintain strictly-enforced regulation on these chemicals.
- Increase ongoing research and monitoring of children's environmental health to better understand, and prevent, the health impact of chemicals on children.