Congress, in Omnibus Spending Bill, To Inflict Mental Retardation on America’s Children: It’s the Lead, Stupid

I’ve discussed before how reducing childhood exposure to lead affects everything from IQ and academic performance to crime rates. It is arguably one of the most crucial and successful environmental efforts in the U.S. of the twentieth century. So, if you’re the U.S. Congress, and the CDC’s Healthy Homes Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is up for renewal, you:

1) fully fund the program to the tune of $30 million dollars.
2) enact the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation (pdf) that a one-time $28 billion dollar expenditure to remove all lead from the 4 million homes still containing it, a move that would pay for itself as a result of increased economic performance by healthier workers.
3) cut the CDC program by 94 percent.

Well, Congress went with door number three. And this is incredibly stupid:

The failure to solve the problem of toxic lead seems particularly odd because billions of dollars each year could be gained by eliminating lead from housing. A 2005 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed several cost-benefit analyses, all showing that eliminating lead from housing would save billions each year because I.Q. translates into earning power which, in turn, translates into tax revenues.

Here are some numbers from the Academy’s 2005 statement. There are 4 million homes in the U.S. needing lead removal or encapsulation. At $7000 to clean an average home, eliminating the lead paint problem would require a one-time investment of $28 billion. The savings would be $43 billion in the first year and each year thereafter because children with higher I.Q.s tend to get more schooling and then jobs with higher pay. So lead remediation would pay for itself in less than one year and would then save tens of billions each year thereafter (Grosse, 2002; Gould, 2009). An investment of $28 billion is less than the U.S. has spent every six months in Iraq for the past 8 years.

Other recent studies make the same point, but you get the idea — there’s a huge amount of money to be saved by ceasing to poison our children (Gould, 2009).

To state the reverse: We are forgoing billions of dollars in income and taxes each year in order to keep our urban children poisoned.

This is why misunderstanding the basics of how a fiat currency system matters. There is no need to worry about reducing deficits per se. It only matters if we outstrip the capacity of the real economy. Here, we would actually be improving the real economy in the long-term by increasing the capabilities of our future work force (as well as imposing a lower burden on current workers–who are also parents).

Or we can fixate on deficit reduction, and poison our children.

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11 Responses to Congress, in Omnibus Spending Bill, To Inflict Mental Retardation on America’s Children: It’s the Lead, Stupid

  1. Prof.Pedant says:

    But some of those brighter children might grow up to be Democrats, or even scientists!!!!!!!

  2. James Moody says:

    Completely agree. I’m a lead paint inspector and risk assessor. There is currently no real enforcement going on as far as the EPA’s RRP rule and with stuff like this, no real hopes to end the problem. Sadly, homeowners mostly perfer contractors that are oblivious to the rule.

    Would you mind if I re-blogged this post on my site?

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  5. KrugnacTheMagnificent says:

    So let me get this straight.

    If a child lives in a home with lead, and the government spends $7,000 removing that lead, that child grows up and begins raking in big bucks from his higher IQ in the first year?

  6. brendan says:

    Just for the record, fully funding the current program, maybe with some expansion–especially for testing more children–is the correct answer. the multi-billion-dollar removal program is NOT smart unless we can be sure all that removal will be done correctly. Lead paint, in place and not flaking or otherwise deteriorating, is less a threat than the dust and flaking that results from inept, uncontrolled removal programs. like asbestos, the danger is only from deteriorating or disturbed material. yes, all lead must someday be removed, but a massive program could only be safe it it were preceded by an equally massive program of removal training, and then a massive inspection/enforcement program to go with the removals. this can be done–it is now how we remove asbestos and lead when we find them–but to do so on a massive scale is very likely beyond our skill level, and our financial will.
    so, expand and enhance and extend the current programs. by all means.
    and cutting this, as with almost all the ‘social service’ cuts the right has been so hungry to implement is pennywise and pound foolish, or, as we once would have said, dumb.

  7. Warren Johnson says:

    The American Academy of Pediatrics estimate of benefit is based on three tenuous assumptions: that ALL children in Lead Containing Houses will actually eat the paint, that Lead is the only cause of their IQ point defecit, and that IQ point defecit is the only reason that poor inner-city citizes are under-employed. At $28 million, these are three very expensive assumtions.

    • creature says:

      $28M is too expensive to prevent poisoning of our children? Better to spend $Billions killing them as adults. What flavor paint chips were your favorite?

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