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Preventable Environmental Hazards like Lead and Chemicals Cost Californians Billions

June 16, 2015

Oakland, CA (June 16, 2015) – Eliminating exposures to preventable envi­ronmental hazards related to four childhood health conditions could save families and the state of California $254 million annually and prevent losses of $10-13 billion over the lifetime of all children born in a single year, according to a new report, Costs of Environmental Health Conditions in California Children, released by the Public Health Institute’s California Environmental Health Tracking Program (CEHTP). This comes as rates of childhood cancer and asthma have been on the rise in recent decades.

The report looked at preventable environmental contributions to asthma, lead exposures, cancer, and neurobehavioral disorders. It found that:

  • Asthma has the greatest preventable impact on an annual basis, costing more than $208 million every year.
  • Lead exposures have the greatest preventable long-term impact, with lost earnings of $8-11 billion over the lifetime of all children born in a single year. 

Because the report’s estimates of lifetime costs are only for children born in a single year, the true long-term impact of these health conditions is much greater, with losses accruing over time as children are born and hazards are left unmitigated.

In addition to lead, among the list of environmental factors that contribute to these conditions are: pesticides, traffic pollutants, methylmercury, PBDEs (used as flame retardants), secondhand smoke, radiation, and chemical cleaners.

The report points out that many of these toxins are more common in low-income communities and communities of color. The associated health conditions can result in absenteeism, reduced IQ, and behavioral problems—limiting children’s educational and economic opportunities into adulthood.

These impacts extend beyond the individual child to affect their current and future families.  As these children grow to adulthood, not only do they and their families feel the brunt of these illnesses and their associated costs; the multi-generational impacts from these lost opportunities can further disadvantage these communities as a whole.

“Understanding the economic and health burden of childhood conditions relat­ed to preventable environmental hazards is critical in developing policies to reduce exposure,” said Galatea King, CEHTP’s health surveillance director.

In addition to the economic impact, the CEHTP report found that eliminating preventable environmental hazards in the state could:

  • Eliminate lead exposure
  • Reduce the number of children experiencing asthma by 30 percent
  • Reduce select childhood cancer illnesses and deaths by 15 percent
  • Reduce the incidence of certain neurobehavioral disorders by 10 percent

Past efforts to reduce harmful environmental exposures have proven to deliver a positive return on investment. The Clean Air Act of 1970 has generated more than $30 for each $1 of regulatory costs. And each $1 invested in controlling hazards from lead paint produces $17-$221 in societal benefits.

“We know our children are the most susceptible to environmental pollutants, and we know that your income and where you live should not determine your child’s health,” said Mary A. Pittman, president and CEO of the Public Health Institute. “This report shows us that developing more successful interventions to eliminate our exposure to toxins will not only improve quality of life for our children—it will also prevent significant financial losses.”


For more information and to arrange for interviews, contact Jennifer Scroggins at jennifer.scroggins@phi.org or 510-285-5512.

About the California Environmental Health Tracking Program
The California Environmental Health Tracking Program (CEHTP) is a program of the Public Health Institute. The mission of CEHTP is to provide data and information on diseases and environmental threats to inform environmental and public health programs, research, and policies.
About the Public Health Institute 
The Public Health Institute, an independent nonprofit organization, is dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life for people throughout California, across the nation and around the world