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Lead Water Pipes and Infant Mortality in Turn-of-the-Century Massachusetts

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  • Werner Troesken
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    Abstract

    This paper considers a largely unknown public-health practice in the United States: the use of lead pipes to distribute household tap water. Municipalities first installed lead pipes during the late nineteenth century. In 1897, about half of all American municipalities used lead water pipes. Using data from 1900 Massachusetts, this paper compares infant death rates and stillbirth rates in cities that used lead water pipes to rates in cities that used non-lead pipes. In the average town in 1900, the use of lead pipes increased infant mortality and stillbirth rates by 25 to 50 percent. However, the effects of lead water lines varied across cities, and depended on the age of the pipe and the corrosiveness of the associated water supplies. Age of pipe influenced lead content because, over time, oxidation formed a protective coating on the interior of pipes. As for corrosiveness, acidic water removed more lead from the interior of pipes than did non-acidic water. Consequently, infant death rates and stillbirth rates in Massachusetts towns employing old lead lines, and non-acidic water supplies, were no higher than in towns employing non-lead pipes. But in cities using new pipes and distributing acidic water, lead pipes increased infant mortality rates and stillbirth rates three- to fourfold.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w9549.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9549.

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    Date of creation: Mar 2003
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    Publication status: published as Werner Troesken, 2008. "Lead Water Pipes and Infant Mortality at the Turn of the Twentieth Century," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(3), pages 553-575.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9549

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    1. Robert Fogel & Dora Costa, 1997. "A theory of technophysio evolution, with some implications for forecasting population, health care costs, and pension costs," Demography, Springer, vol. 34(1), pages 49-66, February.
    2. Peltzman, Sam, 1971. "Pricing in Public and Private Enterprises: Electric Utilities in the United States," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(1), pages 109-47, April.
    3. Louis S. Jacobson & Robert J. LaLonde & Daniel Sullivan, 1992. "Earnings Losses of Displaced Workers," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 92-11, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    4. Dora L. Costa, 1998. "Understanding the Twentieth Century Decline in Chronic Conditions Among Older Men," NBER Working Papers 6859, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Troesken, Werner, 1999. "Patronage and Public-Sector Wages in 1896," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(02), pages 424-446, June.
    6. Robert W. Fogel, 1984. "Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality Since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings," NBER Working Papers 1402, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Fishback, Price V. & Haines, Michael R. & Kantor, Shawn, 2001. "The Impact of the New Deal on Black and White Infant Mortality in the South," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 93-122, January.
    8. Lee A. Craig & Thomas Weiss, 1997. "Nutritional Status and Agricultural Surpluses in the Antebellum United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0099, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Fogel, Robert William, 2000. "The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226256627, March.
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    Cited by:
    1. Sukkoo Kim & Robert A. Margo, 2003. "Historical Perspectives on U.S. Economic Geography," NBER Working Papers 9594, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Karen Clay & Werner Troesken & Michael Haines, 2006. "Lead Pipes and Child Mortality," NBER Working Papers 12603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Dora L. Costa & Joanna Lahey, 2003. "Becoming Oldest-Old: Evidence from Historical U.S. Data," NBER Working Papers 9933, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Robert W. Fogel, 2003. "Changes in the Process of Aging During the Twentieth Century: Findings and Procedures of the Early Indicators Project," NBER Working Papers 9941, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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