Panel Paper: Something in the Water? The Role of Lead Contamination in Educational Disparities

Friday, November 3, 2017
Stetson F (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lucy Sorensen1, Ashley Fox1, Heyjie Jung2 and Erika G. Martin1, (1)State University of New York at Albany, (2)Arizona State University

Though the adverse developmental consequences of lead exposure in children have been well known for over a century, the recent Flint water crisis has drawn renewed attention to the impacts of lead exposure on human health and development. This study considers connections to educational outcomes, asking the question of whether population-level lead exposure in early childhood influences later academic achievement and/or racial achievement gaps. It assesses the effectiveness of recent local- and state-level lead hazard control programs in mitigating exposure, and uses this source of exogenous variation in early childhood exposure to draw inferences about the long-term effects of lead on mean student test scores. Our findings indicate that lead hazard control grants reducde the number of lead poisoning incidents by nearly one-half of the baseline rate. Each one percentage point reduction in lead poisoning in early childhood translated to a growth of 0.18 standard deviations in math test scores and 0.23 standard deviations in reading scores. This same reduction in lead poisoning narrowed the white-black math achievement gap by 0.04 standard deviations and the white-Hispanic math gap by 0.03 standard deviations.