Lead and Mortality

43 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2010

See all articles by Karen Clay

Karen Clay

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Werner Troesken

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Michael R. Haines

Colgate University - Economics Department; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 2010

Abstract

This paper examines the effect of water-borne lead exposure on infant mortality in American cities over the period 1900-1920. Infants are highly sensitive to lead, and more broadly are a marker for current environmental conditions. The effects of lead on infant mortality are identified by variation across cities in water acidity and the types of service pipes that the water ran through - lead, iron, or concrete - which together determined the extent of lead exposure. Estimates that restrict the sample to cities with lead pipes and panel estimates provide further support for the causal link between water-borne lead and infant mortality. The magnitudes of the effects were large. In 1900, a decline in exposure equivalent to an increase in pH from 6.675 (25th percentile) to 7.3 (50th percentile) in cities with lead-only pipes would have been associated with a decrease in infant mortality of 7 to 33 percent or at least 12 fewer infant deaths per 1,000 live births. This paper examines the effect of water-borne lead exposure on infant mortality in American cities over the period 1900-1920. Infants are highly sensitive to lead, and more broadly are a marker for current environmental conditions. The effects of lead on infant mortality are identified by variation across cities in water acidity and the types of service pipes that the water ran through - lead, iron, or concrete - which together determined the extent of lead exposure. Estimates that restrict the sample to cities with lead pipes and panel estimates provide further support for the causal link between water-borne lead and infant mortality. The magnitudes of the effects were large. In 1900, a decline in exposure equivalent to an increase in pH from 6.675 (25th percentile) to 7.3 (50th percentile) in cities with lead-only pipes would have been associated with a decrease in infant mortality of 7 to 33 percent or at least 12 fewer infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

Suggested Citation

Clay, Karen B. and Troesken, Werner and Haines, Michael R., Lead and Mortality (October 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16480. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1696392

Karen B. Clay (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Werner Troesken

University of Pittsburgh - Department of Economics ( email )

4901 Wesley Posvar Hall
230 South Bouquet Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-7451 (Phone)
412-648-9074 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Michael R. Haines

Colgate University - Economics Department ( email )

13 Oak Drive
217 Persson Hall
Hamilton, NY 13346
United States
315-228-7536 (Phone)
315-228-7726 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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