Childhood lead poisoning: the promise and abandonment of primary prevention

Am J Public Health. 1998 Dec;88(12):1871-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.88.12.1871.


In 1991, the Public Health Service published the Strategic Plan for the Elimination of Childhood Lead Poisoning. This document marked a fundamental shift in federal policy from finding and treating lead-poisoned children to authentic primary prevention. It spelled out a 15-year strategy to achieve this goal and provided a cost-benefit analysis showing that the monetized benefits far exceeded the costs of abatement. A strong national effort to eliminate the disease developed. Now, 7 years after publication of the plan, primary prevention of lead exposure has been abandoned. This article examines the role of some prevailing attitudes and institutions in derailing the effort. Some institutions--the lead industry, real estate interests, and insurance interests--behaved as anticipated. Others, including private pediatricians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, some federal agencies, and a public interest group ostensibly dedicated to eliminating lead poisoning, also played an unexpected part in derailing the plan.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Child
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Planning / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Lead Poisoning / epidemiology
  • Lead Poisoning / etiology
  • Lead Poisoning / prevention & control*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Primary Prevention / organization & administration*
  • Public Health Practice*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Public Health Service*