Economic costs of childhood lead exposure in low- and middle-income countries

Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Sep;121(9):1097-102. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1206424. Epub 2013 Jun 25.


Background: Children's blood lead levels have declined worldwide, especially after the removal of lead in gasoline. However, significant exposure remains, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. To date, there have been no global estimates of the costs related to lead exposure in children in developing countries.

Objective: Our main aim was to estimate the economic costs attributable to childhood lead exposure in low- and middle-income countries.

Methods: We developed a regression model to estimate mean blood lead levels in our population of interest, represented by each 1-year cohort of children < 5 years of age. We used an environmentally attributable fraction model to estimate lead-attributable economic costs and limited our analysis to the neurodevelopmental impacts of lead, assessed as decrements in IQ points. Our main outcome was lost lifetime economic productivity due to early childhood exposure.

Results: We estimated a total cost of $977 billions of international dollars in low- and middle-income countries, with economic losses equal to $134.7 billion in Africa [4.03% of gross domestic product (GDP)], $142.3 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean (2.04% of GDP), and $699.9 billion in Asia (1.88% of GDP). Our sensitivity analysis indicates a total economic loss in the range of $728.6-1162.5 billion.

Conclusions: We estimated that, in low- and middle-income countries, the burden associated with childhood lead exposure amounts to 1.20% of world GDP in 2011. For comparison, in the United States and Europe lead-attributable economic costs have been estimated at $50.9 and $55 billion, respectively, suggesting that the largest burden of lead exposure is now borne by low- and middle-income countries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / economics*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intelligence / drug effects*
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Lead / blood*
  • Lead / toxicity*
  • Models, Economic*
  • Regression Analysis


  • Lead