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Cognitive Disparities, Lead Plumbing, and Water Chemistry: Intelligence Test Scores and Exposure to Water-Borne Lead Among World War Two U.S. Army Enlistees

  • Joseph P. Ferrie
  • Karen Rolf
  • Werner Troesken
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    Assessing the impact of lead exposure is difficult if individuals select on the basis of their characteristics into environments with different exposure levels. We address this issue with data from when the dangers of lead exposure were still largely unknown, using new evidence on intelligence test scores for male World War Two U.S. Army enlistees linked to the households where they resided in 1930. Higher exposure to water-borne lead (proxied by urban residence and low water pH levels) was associated with lower test scores: going from pH 6 to pH 5.5, scores fell 5 points (1/4 standard deviation). A longer time exposed led to a more severe effect. The ubiquity of lead in urban water systems at this time and uncertainty regarding its impact mean these effects are unlikely to have resulted from selection into locations with different levels of exposure.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17161.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17161.

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    Date of creation: Jun 2011
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    Publication status: published as “Cogn iti ve Dis par iti e s, Le ad P lumpin g, an d Wa te r Ch e mist r y: P r ior Exposur e to W ate r - Bor ne Le ad an d In te lli ge nc e Te st Sc or e s A mon g Wor ld W ar Two Ar my En lis te e s,” Econom ics and Hu ma n Bi ol ogy , vol . 10, n o. 1 ( Jan uar y 201 2): 98- 112. Co-a uthor s: J ose ph P. Fe r r ie (Nor th we ste r n Un ive r sity ) a nd Ka r e n Rolf (U ni ve r sity of Ne br aska at Oma ha ).
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17161
    Note: DAE HE
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Werner Troesken, 2006. "The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262201674, June.
    2. Hilton, F. G. Hank & Levinson, Arik, 1998. "Factoring the Environmental Kuznets Curve: Evidence from Automotive Lead Emissions," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 126-141, March.
    3. Karen Clay & Werner Troesken & Michael R. Haines, 2010. "Lead and Mortality," NBER Working Papers 16480, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Hoyt Bleakley, 2007. "Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(1), pages 73-117, 02.
    5. Suzi Kerr & Richard G. Newell, 2003. "Policy-Induced Technology Adoption: Evidence from the U.S. Lead Phasedown," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(3), pages 317-343, 09.
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