Inequality Before Birth: The Developmental Consequences of Environmental Toxicants
Millions of tons of hazardous wastes have been produced in the United States in the last 60 years which have been dispersed into the air, into water, and on and under the ground. Using new population-level data that follows cohorts of children born in the state of Florida between 1994 and 2002, this paper examines the short and long-term effects of prenatal exposure to environmental toxicants on children living within two miles of a Superfund site, toxic waste sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as being particularly severe. We compare siblings living within two miles from a Superfund site at birth where at least one sibling was conceived before or during cleanup of the site, and the other(s) was conceived after the site cleanup was completed using a family fixed effects model. Children conceived to mothers living within 2 miles of a Superfund site before it was cleaned are 7.4 percentage points more likely to repeat a grade, have 0.06 of a standard deviation lower test scores, and are 6.6 percentage points more likely to be suspended from school than their siblings who were conceived after the site was cleaned. Children conceived to mothers living within one mile of a Superfund site before it was cleaned are 10 percentage points more likely to be diagnosed with a cognitive disability than their later born siblings as well. These results tend to be larger and are more statistically significant than the estimated effects of proximity to a Superfund site on birth outcomes. This study suggests that the cleanup of severe toxic waste sites has significant positive effects on a variety of long-term cognitive and developmental outcomes for children.
We are grateful for the helpful comments received by Anjali Adukia, Edith Chen, Jonathan Guryan, Jennifer Heissel, Kirabo Jackson, Andy Rotherham, Diane Schanzenbach, and seminar and conference participants at AEFP, APPAM, CALDER, Dartmouth, Indiana, NBER, Northwestern, Stanford, SUNY-Albany, Syracuse, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Persico acknowledges support from the Society, Biology and Health Cluster Fellowship and Dissertation Year fellowship at Northwestern University. Figlio and Roth acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Education Sciences (CALDER grant), and Figlio acknowledges support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We are grateful to the Florida Departments of Education and Health for providing the de-identified, matched data used in this analysis and to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff for providing additional data. The conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not represent the positions of the Florida Departments of Education and Health, EPA, those of our funders, or of the National Bureau of Economic Research.