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

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  • Werner Troesken

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Werner Troesken, 2003. "Lead Water Pipes and Infant Mortality in Turn-of-the-Century Massachusetts," NBER Working Papers 9549, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9549
    Note: AG DAE CH
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    6. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kim, Sukkoo & Margo, Robert A., 2004. "Historical perspectives on U.S. economic geography," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics,in: J. V. Henderson & J. F. Thisse (ed.), Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 66, pages 2981-3019 Elsevier.
    2. 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.
    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. Karen Clay & Werner Troesken & Michael Haines, 2006. "Lead Pipes and Child Mortality," NBER Working Papers 12603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Dejun Su, 2009. "Risk Exposure in Early Life and Mortality at Older Ages: Evidence from Union Army Veterans," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 35(2), pages 275-295.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics

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