Global health burden and cost of lead exposure in children and adults: a health impact and economic modelling analysis

Lead exposure is a worldwide health risk despite substantial declines in blood lead levels following the leaded gasoline phase-out. For the first time, to our knowledge, we aimed to estimate the global burden and cost of intelligence quotient (IQ) loss and cardiovascular disease mortality from lead exposure.

Publication Type

Journal

Experts

Bjorn Larsen, Ernesto Sánchez-Triana

Time Frame

2023

Read More Category:

Description

Methods- In this modelling study, we used country blood lead level estimates from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2019. We estimated IQ loss (presented as estimated loss in IQ points with 95% CIs) in the global population of children younger than 5 years using the blood lead level–IQ loss function from an international pooled analysis. We estimated the cost of IQ loss, which was calculated only for the proportion of children expected to enter the labour force, as the present value of loss in lifetime income from the IQ loss (presented as cost in US dollars and percentage of gross domestic product with a range). We estimated cardiovascular deaths (with 95% CIs) due to lead exposure among people aged 25 years or older using a health impact model that captures the effect of lead exposure on cardiovascular disease mortality that is mediated through mechanisms other than hypertension. Finally, we used values of statistical life to estimate the welfare cost of premature mortality (presented as cost in US dollars and percentage of GDP). All estimates were calculated by World Bank income classification and region (for low-income and middle-income countries [LMICs] only) for 2019.
Findings- We estimated that children younger than 5 years lost 765 million (95% CI 443–1098) IQ points and that 5 545 000 (2 305 000–8 271 000) adults died from cardiovascular disease in 2019 due to lead exposure. 729 million of the IQ points lost (95·3% of the total global IQ loss) and 5 004 000 (90·2% of total) cardiovascular disease deaths due to lead exposure occurred in LMICs. IQ loss in LMICs was nearly 80% higher than a previous estimate. Cardiovascular disease deaths were six times higher than the GBD 2019 estimate. The global cost of lead exposure was US$6·0 trillion (range 2·6–9·0) in 2019, which was equivalent to 6·9% (3·1–10·4) of the global gross domestic product. 77% (range 70–78) of the cost was the welfare cost of cardiovascular disease mortality, and 23% (22–30) was the present value of future income losses from IQ loss.
Interpretation-Our findings suggest that global lead exposure has health and economic costs at par with PM2·5 air pollution. However, much work remains to improve the quality of blood lead level measurement data, especially in LMICs.
Funding-The Korea Green Growth Trust Fund and the World Bank’s Pollution Management and Environmental Health Program.

Additional information

Publication Type

Journal

Experts

Bjorn Larsen, Ernesto Sánchez-Triana

Time Frame

2023