Chapter

The Significance of Lead Water Mains in American Cities Some Historical Evidence

Edited by Werner Troesken and Patricia E. Beeson

in Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780226116181
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226116198 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226116198.003.0007
The Significance of Lead Water Mains in American Cities Some Historical Evidence

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By the turn of the twentieth century, cities throughout the United States were using lead service mains to distribute water. Despite the fact that many of these mains are still in use and that up to 20 percent of all lead exposure in young children comes from drinking water, the significance of lead service mains is poorly understood and there is little scientific evidence that allow the precise measurement of their effects on human health. The goals of this chapter are twofold. First, it explores how many cities in the United States used lead service mains during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and examines what factors influenced the choice to use them; and second, it explores how the use of lead service mains affected morbidity around the turn of the twentieth century. The evidence on morbidity is derived from a large sample of Union Army veterans whose health was assessed when they applied for pensions. The results suggest that the use of lead water mains probably did have some adverse effects on human health, but for the general population, these effects do not appear to have been very serious.

Keywords: water supply; water pipes; lead exposure; morbidity; Union Army veterans

Chapter.  7984 words. 

Subjects: Economic History

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