Investigators Link NASCAR To Child Test Scores From Lead Poisoning

( Leaded fuel, which continued to be used in NASCAR races long into the 2000s, inspired two researchers who have a passion for the sport to investigate whether it had a negative impact on academic performance at nearby schools.

It did.

Test scores in schools close to the races increased gradually after 2007 when NASCAR switched to unleaded fuel. Their study, which focused on a pair of major Florida speedways at Daytona and Homestead, found this to be the case.

Ivan Rudik, an assistant professor of environmental economics at Cornell who co-wrote the study with three colleagues, stated that lead damages the portion of your brain responsible for things like memory. ”

You could assume that’s crucial for passing tests,” she said.

The study, which the Journal of Human Resources released in October, used a spontaneous experiment that started when NASCAR decided to delead its fuel.

Researchers discovered that exposure to lead reduced student performance rates on Florida’s early 2000s state-mandated exam, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, by 4.4 percentage points. They compared the result to missing 16 weeks of class.

Since lead-free NASCAR racing began, test results in schools close to the Daytona and Homestead circuits had steadily increased until 2014, when Florida modified its test.

Lead has a well-known negative impact on human brain development. Another recent study calculates that leaded gasoline costs Americans 824 million IQ points.

After two decades of diminishing use, leaded gas was outlawed in 1996 under the Clean Air Act; a move now hailed as a victory for public health. But race cars and airplanes were immune from the law. Leaded fuel was necessary for both industries’ engine performance.

A single NASCAR race releases more than 10 kg of lead, the same heavy metal that an average industry or airport might discharge over a year.

Over time, students exposed to more lead suffered the most significant losses in their FCAT test scores.

Toxic levels of lead were introduced to residents after Flint, Michigan; officials decided to use the Flint River as a water source. Children with elevated lead levels are more likely to experience academic failure, involvement with the juvenile justice system, adult incarceration, and/or dependency on public assistance.