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The Long-term Effects of Early Lead Exposure: Evidence from a case of Environmental Negligence

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  • Tomás Rau
  • Loreto Reyes
  • Sergio S. Urzúa

Abstract

This paper estimates the effect of early lead exposure on academic achievement and adult earnings. We analyze longitudinal information from individuals attending primary and secondary schools in the city of Arica (in northern Chile). Between 1984 and 1989, Arica received more than 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals containing high concentrations of lead. Initially, the chemical waste was located several kilometers from the city. However, Arica's rapid expansion, which included the construction of housing projects just meters away from the waste deposit, put a large number of families at risk. Our data include information on residential proximity to the polluted area, levels of lead exposure, comprehensive demographic information, nationally representative academic test scores and administrative data on adult earnings. We document a strong relationship between blood lead levels and student academic performance. We find that an increase of one microgram of lead per deciliter of blood reduces math and language scores by 0.15 and 0.21 standard deviations, respectively. For earnings, we estimate that for each extra microgram of lead, monthly earnings decrease by CLP 11,458 (or USD 22.92). This translates into a reduction of USD 6,000 in lifetime earnings per microgram of lead per deciliter of blood.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18915.

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Date of creation: Mar 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18915

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  1. Janet Currie & W. Reed Walker, 2009. "Traffic Congestion and Infant Health: Evidence from E-ZPass," NBER Working Papers 15413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Raimundo Soto & Arístides Torche, 2004. "Spatial Inequality, Migration and Economic Growth in Chile," Latin American Journal of Economics-formerly Cuadernos de Economía, Instituto de Economía. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile., vol. 41(124), pages 401-424.
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Cited by:
  1. Adam Isen & Maya Rossin-Slater & W. Reed Walker, 2014. "Every Breath You Take – Every Dollar You’ll Make: The Long-Term Consequences of the Clean Air Act of 1970," NBER Working Papers 19858, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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