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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

Higher prior exposure to water-borne lead among male World War Two U.S. Army enlistees was associated with lower intelligence test scores. Exposure was proxied by urban residence and the water pH levels of the cities where enlistees lived in 1930. Army General Classification Test scores were six points lower (nearly 1/3 standard deviation) where pH was 6 (so the water lead concentration for a given amount of lead piping was higher) than where pH was 7 (so the concentration was lower). This difference rose with time exposed. At this time, the dangers of exposure to lead in water were not widely known and lead was ubiquitous in water systems, so these results are not likely the effect of individuals selecting into locations with different levels of exposure.

Joseph Ferrie, Northwestern University
Karen Rolf
Werner Troesken
Publication Date: 
September, 2012
Publication Type: 
Economics and Human Biology
Issue Number: 
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