Background: Lead exposure represents a significant human health concern that often occurs with little warning to the consumer. Water lead levels can be mitigated by point-of-use (POU) devices such as reverse osmosis, distillation, or activated carbon with lead reduction media. Objectives: This study assessed a partial cost-benefit of residential installation of POU devices to reduce lead concentrations in drinking water and examined the economic impact at the community level based on exposures reported in Flint, Michigan. Methods: We calculated the individual consumer breakeven point for each lead abatement option by subtracting the lifetime cost of device installation and maintenance from the lifetime cost of lead exposure through its impact on intelligence (IQ) and lifetime earnings. This approach was then extrapolated to the community level based on reported lead exposures in Flint, Michigan. Results: Based on operating POU device costs, lead absorption from water, and economic losses associated with reduced IQ, initial water lead levels associated with consumer breakeven points for reverse osmosis (7.31 µg/L), activated carbon (3.73 µg/L), and distillation (12.0 µg/L) were calculated. For example, an individual consuming water with 25 µg/L of lead, similar to the 90th percentile of concentrations measured in Flint, Michigan, would have an expected blood lead level of 1.25 µg/dL, a corresponding loss of 0.641 IQ points, and a lifetime economic earnings loss of $14,284. Over 70 years of continued use, activated carbon with lead reduction media is the least expensive device to maintain and operate as compared to reverse osmosis and distillation. Conclusions: Infrastructure failures related to drinking water are unpredictable and exposure to contaminates can have significant economic ramifications. POU devices represent a cost-effective option to reduce the impact of lead exposure, particularly when water lead concentrations exceed regulated levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-265
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Blood lead levels
  • Cost-benefit
  • Drinking water
  • Flint
  • Lead
  • Point-of-use
  • Water lead levels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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