Lead Poisoning May Be A Criminal Element
Lead poisoning is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the rising incidence of crime in our society. But the results of a new report indicate that lead may possess qualities of a criminal element and juvenile delinquency.
How can lead poisoning lead to crime?
For decades, parents have been warned about the dangers of lead poisoning. Lead is a common but toxic element found throughout the environment, in items ranging from old paint (applied before 1978, still found in many old buildings), children’s toys and school supplies, old water pipes, soil, the air, and water.
Children who are exposed to lead can experience a wide range of symptoms, some of which are not immediately evident. Therefore, in addition to headache, low energy, constipation, and abdominal pain, children can develop learning disabilities, aggressive behavior, kidney damage, reduced IQ, hearing difficulties, and attention problems.
According to Summer Miller of Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, exposure to toxic levels of lead among children may result in juvenile delinquency. In fact, it doesn’t take much exposure to cause toxicity: “levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter show enough lead exposure to diagnose lead poisoning,” noted Miller, even though other research state 45 mcg/dl as the cut off point.
Miller also pointed out that published studies have shown that exposure to lead and crime are associated with evidence of poor intelligence, bullying and other behavioral problems, and poor communication skills. Among those earlier studies is one from Columbia University.
Lead poisoning studies
In that study, the author reported on the proposed benefits if blood lead levels in US children between birth and age 6 years were reduced to less than 1 microgram/dl. A Markov model was used to identify lifetime earnings, crime costs, health improvements, and welfare cost reductions.
Overall, the researcher determined that the proposed reduction in lead levels would reduce crime and increase on-time high school graduation, and that the cost savings would equal about $1.2 trillion. An earlier study took the research to an international level, and the report was revealing.
The author explained there was a “strong association between preschool blood lead and subsequent crime rate trends over several decades in the USA, Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Finland, Italy, West Germany, and New Zealand.” Analysis of the data also suggested that murder may be especially linked with more severe cases of lead poisoning among children.
More than a decade ago, researchers were warning about an association between lead levels in children and crime. One example is a study in Environmental Research, in which the author compared changes in blood levels of lead in US children with changes in IQ.
Results supported earlier findings of a shift in IQ levels associated with blood lead levels. In addition, “the findings with respect to violent crime are also consistent with studies indicating that children with higher bone lead tend to display more aggressive and delinquent behavior.”
What parents should do
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least 4 million households in the United States have children living there who are exposed to lead. Approximately half a million children ages 1 to 5 years have blood lead levels higher than the level recommended by the CDC (5 micrograms/dl).
Housing built before 1978 may have lead paint unless the walls and other surfaces were refinished since that time. To be certain, parents should ask their local or state health department to test the paint and dust in the house for lead.
Some painted toys and school supplies imported from China, Mexico, and other countries have been found to contain leaded paint. Children should not be allowed to play with these toys or use these other items.
Parents also should avoid using cookware, utensils, or containers that hold food or beverages that may contain lead. Drinking water in the home also can be checked for lead content.
Crime and criminal behavior have many causes, and lead exposure is just one of them. However, lead poisoning is preventable, and parents and other responsible parties would be wise to help prevent exposure to this criminal element.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Miller S. Lead poisoning: the epidemic hitting the US juvenile justice system. International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry 2013; 5:213-20
Muennig P. The social costs of childhood lead exposure in the post-lead regulation era. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine 2009 Sep; 163(9): 844-49
Nevin R. How lead exposure relates to temporal changes in IQ, violent crime, and unwed pregnancy. Environmental Research 2000 May; 83(1): 1-22
Nevin R. Understanding international crime trends: the legacy of preschool lead exposure. Environmental Research 2007 Jul; 104(3): 315-36