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The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster


  • Werner Troesken

    () (University of Pittsburgh)


In The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster, Werner Troesken looks at a long-running environmental and public health catastrophe: 150 years of lead pipes in local water systems and the associated sickness, premature death, political inaction, and social denial. The harmful effects of lead water pipes became apparent almost as soon as cities the world over began to install them. Doctors and scientists noted cases of acute illness and death attributable to lead in public water beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, and an editorial in the New York Herald called for the city to study the matter after a bizarre illness made headlines in 1868. But officials took no action for many years. New York City, for example, did not take any steps to reduce lead levels in water until 1992, long after the most serious damage had been done. By then, in any case, much of the old lead pipe had been replaced with safer materials. Troesken examines the health effects of lead exposure, analyzing cases from New York City, Boston, and Glasgow and many smaller towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and England. He draws on period accounts, government reports, court decisions, and economic and demographic analysis to document the widespread nature of the problem, the recognized health effects--particularly for pregnant women and young children--and official intransigence. He presents an accessible overview of the old and new science of lead exposure--explaining, for example, why areas with soft water suffered more harmful effects than areas with hard water. And he gives us compelling and vivid accounts of the people and politics involved. The effects of lead in water continue to be felt; many older houses still have lead service pipes. The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster is essential reading for understanding this past and ongoing public health problem.

Suggested Citation

  • Werner Troesken, 2006. "The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262201674, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:mtp:titles:0262201674

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Roberto Chang & Andres Velasco, 1998. "Financial crises in emerging markets: a canonical model," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 98-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
    2. Charles Engel, 1999. "Accounting for U.S. Real Exchange Rate Changes," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(3), pages 507-538, June.
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    4. Guillermo A. Calvo, 1998. "Capital Flows and Capital-Market Crises: The Simple Economics of Sudden Stops," Journal of Applied Economics, Universidad del CEMA, vol. 1, pages 35-54, November.
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    7. Mirjam Schiffer & Beatrice Weder, 2001. "Firm Size and the Business Environment : Worldwide Survey Results," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 13988, June.
    8. Martin Schneider & Aaron Tornell, 2004. "Balance Sheet Effects, Bailout Guarantees and Financial Crises," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 71(3), pages 883-913.
    9. Anne Krueger & Aaron Tornell, 1999. "The Role of Bank Restructuring in Recovering from Crises: Mexico 1995-98," NBER Working Papers 7042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Kristin J Forbes, 2002. "How Do Large Depreciations Affect Firm Performance?," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 49(Special i), pages 214-238.
    11. Jeffrey Brown, 2001. "Are the Elderly Really Over-Annuitized? New Evidence on Life Insurance and Bequests," NBER Chapters,in: Themes in the Economics of Aging, pages 91-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    13. Gelos, R. Gaston & Werner, Alejandro M., 2002. "Financial liberalization, credit constraints, and collateral: investment in the Mexican manufacturing sector," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 1-27, February.
    14. Ratna Sahay & Deepak Mishra & Poonam Gupta, 2003. "Output Response to Currency Crises," IMF Working Papers 03/230, International Monetary Fund.
    15. Diamond, Douglas W. & Rajan, Raghuram G., 2001. "Banks, short-term debt and financial crises: theory, policy implications and applications," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 37-71, June.
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    18. Bordo, Michael D. & Schwartz, Anna J., 2000. "Measuring real economic effects of bailouts: historical perspectives on how countries in financial distress have fared with and without bailouts," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 81-167, December.
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    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Feigenbaum, James J. & Muller, Christopher, 2016. "Lead exposure and violent crime in the early twentieth century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 51-86.
    2. Daniel S. Grossman & David J.G. Slusky, 2017. "The Effect of an Increase in Lead in the Water System on Fertility and Birth Outcomes: The Case of Flint, Michigan," WORKING PAPERS SERIES IN THEORETICAL AND APPLIED ECONOMICS 201703, University of Kansas, Department of Economics, revised Aug 2017.
    3. repec:pit:wpaper:424 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Ferrie, Joseph P. & Rolf, Karen & Troesken, Werner, 2012. "Cognitive disparities, lead plumbing, and water chemistry: Prior exposure to water-borne lead and intelligence test scores among World War Two U.S. Army enlistees," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 98-111.
    5. Karen Clay & Werner Troesken & Michael Haines, 2006. "Lead Pipes and Child Mortality," NBER Working Papers 12603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Ferrie, Joseph & Rolf, Karen, 2011. "Socioeconomic status in childhood and health after age 70: A new longitudinal analysis for the U.S., 1895–2005," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 445-460.
    7. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, 2014. "Lead Exposure and Behavior: Effects on Antisocial and Risky Behavior among Children and Adolescents," NBER Working Papers 20366, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Joseph P. Ferrie & Karen Rolf & Werner Troesken, 2011. "Cognitive Disparities, Lead Plumbing, and Water Chemistry: Intelligence Test Scores and Exposure to Water-Borne Lead Among World War Two U.S. Army Enlistees," NBER Working Papers 17161, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    environment; public health;

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health


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