Poisoning from lead exposure—predominately from lead-based paint—figures in 10% of Michigan’s juvenile crime and cost the state $330 million in health care, detention, special education, and other costs, a just-released report argues. The study also estimates that a lead abatement program would cost Michigan about $600 million and pay for itself in three to six years.

The report, conducted and issued by the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center and by the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health, bases its figures on extrapolations from more than two dozen studies whose conclusions were localized for Michigan for the year 2012.

The study estimates that just more than 6,000 Michigan children aged 1 and 2 have lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, what the Center for Disease Control regards as a “level of concern.” And of those, roughly 863 have levels topping 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

Exposing Michigan residents—particularly children—to lead hurts the state in four ways, the study argues:

  • It costs the state $18.1 million to treat children for lead-associated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and another $280,000 for treating children with high blood-lead levels.
  • Applying conclusions from a 2003 study and estimating 10% of juvenile delinquency is associated with lead exposure, the authors figure lead-associated juvenile incarceration costs at $32 million and the “direct costs of lead-linked crimes” at $73.3 million.
  • Children with blood-lead levels topping 25 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood need special education. The study figures there are about 77 of those children in the state. At $18,219 per student, that works out to $2.5 million per year.
  • Being merely at CDC’s level of concern for lead exposure can knock 2 1/2 points off a child’s IQ and cost him or her $52,431 in earnings over that person’s lifetime. The study figures that for all 2-year-olds in Michigan in 2012 with elevated blood-lead levels, roughly $206.2 million in potential lifetime earnings will be lost.

The study’s authors assume that 70% of the elevated blood-lead levels in children are attributable to lead-paint exposure, so their major recommendation for ending the problem is to abate lead problems in the home, particularly in low-income housing. “A low-income child living in older housing is four times more likely to be lead poisoned than the average rate for all children in older homes,” the study states.
Lead-abatement costs can range from $1,200 to $10,800, the authors say; they assumed an average cost of $6,000 to abate 100,000 high-risk homes in the state. Such a plan “reduces lead exposure by 70%, reducing the annual costs of lead exposure from over $300 million to $70 million (a cost savings of $230 million annually),” the study declares. “The $600 million in lead abatement would pay for itself after just three years, and then accrue benefit on the order of $230 million annually for many years to come.”

And although the authors concede that getting the state to spend $600 million on lead abatement is highly unlikely, they say that they “believe this is a helpful illustrative scenario.”

See other REMODELING stories on lead-safe practices and the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead-paint rule.