Report: NJ Could Save $27 Billion by Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning

Please see the below release from the Public Advocate.  Please feel free to circulate this report and press release.

The Department retained a professor from Columbia University to assess the cost to New Jersey of having lead poisoned children.  The report, released on December 21, 2009, conservatively estimates that the New Jersey State budget would realize benefits of $14,000 per student and $9 billion across the entire cohort of children aged 0 to 6 if no child in this cohort had a blood lead level greater than one microgram of lead per deciliter of whole blood.  These savings apply only to the present cohort of children aged 0 to 6.  We would expect savings to increase as additional cohorts of children are born in New Jersey.  Click here to read the report.

Report: NJ Could Save $27 Billion by Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning

For Immediate Release                                   Contact:  Nancy Parello, (609) 777-3479

Dec. 21, 2009

Report: NJ Could Save $27 Billion

by Preventing Childhood Lead Poisoning

Public Advocate Calls for Continued Efforts to Keep Children Lead Free

TRENTON – Noting there is “no safe level of lead in children,” a Columbia University researcher concluded that New Jersey could save as much as $27 billion in future societal costs by preventing New Jersey’s youngest residents — infants to children 6 years of age – from becoming lead poisoned.

The report estimates the amount of savings to the state budget alone could amount to $9 billion over the lifetime of children who are currently zero to six years old. The total future savings would be far more, if other cohorts of children grow up in an environment free of preventable sources of lead exposure.

According to the report, produced by Columbia University researcher Peter Muennig and commissioned by Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen, who is also the state’s acting Child Advocate, high school graduation rates would increase, while medical costs and the rates of incarceration associated with childhood lead exposure would decrease if fewer New Jersey children are exposed to lead hazards.

“When young children are exposed to environmental lead, permanent damage can occur to parts of the brain involved in higher intellectual function and behavior. The net result of this damage is sub-optimal academic performance and a higher propensity toward delinquent behavior,” states the report, The Social Costs of Childhood Lead Exposure in New Jersey.

The report cites studies that have found even low levels of childhood lead exposure can cause lasting neurological damage.

“It is clear that investing in primary prevention now and continuing to focus on lead poisoning as a major public health concern will pay dividends down the road in terms of greater health and academic outcomes for our children,” said Chen, who has worked over the last two years to combat the continuing danger of childhood lead poisoning.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2008 population estimates, there are 683,569 children aged zero to six in New Jersey. Of that number, Muennig estimates that 86,416 would have a blood lead level less than one microgram – a level with minimal risk. He estimates that 584,520 would likely have a level between one and 10 micrograms, which could signify mild to moderate risk.

The report states there would likely be 12,633 children zero to six alive today who would register blood lead levels in excess of 10 micrograms per deciliter, which could suggest moderate to severe lead exposure.

In order to calculate the cost to taxpayers for childhood lead exposure, Muennig predicted the future yearly earnings of children alive today who are zero to six years old. He also factored in the cost to the state of special education, medical treatment, criminal activity, incarceration, reliance on public assistance and premature death.

Using this model, Muennig determined that “….the net societal benefits arising from these improvements in high school graduation rates and reductions in crime would amount to $31,000 per child.”

That translates to an overall savings of approximately $27 billion across children currently aged zero to six years, including $6 billion in improved health outcomes for these children. The amount of this cost that is borne exclusively by the state would be approximately $14,000 per child, or about $9 billion.

“The greater the reduction in lead exposure, the more likely New Jersey’s children will achieve success and realize their full potential,” Muennig said.

Chen said it is vital that the state continue to implement action steps outlined in an Executive Order signed by Governor Corzine in April 2008 to tackle the lead poisoning problem. Under that order, several state departments were directed to tighten up their response to, and prevention of, lead poisoning.

The executive order came on the heels of an April 2008 report issued by the Public Advocate that showed too few children are being screened for lead poisoning and contractors hired to clean up lead-burdened homes often perform shoddy work, subjecting children to additional lead hazards.

Since issuing that report, Chen has signed Model Lead-Safe Cities agreements with 13 municipalities that have pledged to address the lead poisoning problem. These municipalities include: Camden, Elizabeth, East Orange, Irvington, Hackensack, Newark, Paterson, Long BranchAsbury ParkVinelandEnglewoodMorristown and Bloomfield.

Chen said many cost-efficient ways exist for state agencies and municipalities to improve their lead poisoning prevention efforts. They include taking steps to:

  • Notify every resident of an apartment building when a child in that building has tested positive for lead.
  • Adopt municipal ordinances that require a lead inspection when a home or apartment changes hands and a certificate of occupancy is issued.
  • Change state regulations to allow the use of mobile finger prick testing devices that give blood lead level results in less than three minutes.
  • Continue to fund existing programs that pay for contaminated homes to be abated and for families to be relocated.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services today published proposed regulations that would carry out these and other steps to achieve the goal of preventing childhood lead poisoning.

“New Jersey has made incredible progress in addressing this important public health issue, but we still have more work to do,” Chen said. “This report provides the new governor and incoming Legislature with information that can be used to build on that progress and ensure all of our children grow up lead free. By doing this, we will reap benefits for generations to come.”

Read report.

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