Little-known research into the direct relationship between lead poisoning and violent crime, shows convincing evidence that a large percentage of the violent crime wave in the 1980’s was due to the pervasive influence of the lead exposure of children 20 years earlier. Leaded gasoline began to be used very heavily in the time period following World War II, with large annual increases in the number of automobiles on the road. This is according to the Washington Post. The article describes the research of Rick Nevin, an economist.
In Nine Different Countries the Crime Rate Always Followed the Severity of Lead Poisoning
He found that in nine different countries, the long-term crime rates always followed the severity of lead poisoning. He checked many other sociological factors thought to influence crime and lead poisoning was the only identical factor. Quoting the article, “Because the countries phased out lead at different points, they provide a rigorous test: In each instance, the violent crime rate tracks lead poisoning levels two decades earlier.” The likelihood of these results being entirely coincidental are infinitesimal. “Nevin does not say that lead is the only factor behind crime, but he says it is the biggest factor.”
The Exposure of Children to Lead Poisoning Affects Their Behavior 20 Years Later
The two main sources of lead poisoning in children are lead in paint and lead as an additive in gasoline. The children ate paint chips containing lead, from peeling paint in older houses. Also according to the Post article, about 1900 a crime wave directly corresponded to the use of lead in paint. The violent crime wave of the l980’s occurred about 20 years after the heaviest use of the lead additive in gasoline. Research shows that lead poisoning affects the behavior of children about 20 years later.
Quoting the Post article, “lead is a neurotoxin that causes impulsivity and aggression.” It is easy for the public to understand that traits which accompany lead poisoning, “impulsivity and aggression” are personality traits that would be very conducive to criminal activity. When we act on impulse, we act not because of a reasoned thought process but do something just because we want to, without giving it critical thought. Therefore a person is less likely to consider jail as a possible result of their actions. It goes without saying, that the other trait, aggression, will increase the propensity to commit violent crime.
Although Much Improved, Lead Poisoning is Still a Childhood Problem
An American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry article says, “Lead exposure is one of the most common preventable poisonings of childhood. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that 6 percent of all children ages one to 2 years and 11 percent of black (non-Hispanic) children ages one to five years have blood lead levels in the toxic range.”
Also quoting the article, “Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable.” Many children are being treated today for attention deficit disorder. Perhaps a portion of these cases could be caused by low-level lead poisoning. The Center for Disease Control recommends that you have a low-cost, simple lead screening test performed on your child. If your home has lead paint you need to contact your health department about abatement procedures. Your water department can give you information about any problem with toxic lead levels in your water supply. They are required to print an annual water quality report which lists all the major contaminants.
Research at the University of Pittsburgh found that 146 “arrested youths had lead levels that were four times higher” than their law-abiding peers. To me, this is very compelling evidence that lead poisoning causes crime. TB patients are forced to take drug treatment to cure their disease because they are a danger to the public. There are drugs available to remove lead from the body, called chelating drugs. Criminals are a menace to the public safety. By the same token, a plausible case could be made for criminals who have high lead levels, to enter compulsory treatment programs using drugs to rid their bodies of lead. Of course, this would raise serious concerns by civil rights advocates.
Mayor Giuliani Needs to Share his Success in Fighting Crime With the Huge Reduction in Lead Poisoning
The article considered the case of Mayor Giuliani’s famous crime-fighting campaign which drastically lowered the level of violent crime in New York City. Quoting the article, “In 1990, 31 New Yorkers out of every 100,000 were murdered. In 2004, the rate was 7 per 100,000 — lower than in most big cities.” New York had a very aggressive lead abatement program coupled with the national phasing out of leaded gasoline. “Between 1970 and 1974, the number of New York children heavily poisoned by lead fell by more than 80 percent,” Please note that this was 20 years before Giuliani’s large crime drop in New York City. Also violent crime dropped drastically in other large U.S. cities at the same time. Therefore, the article makes a plausible argument that Giuliana’s vaunted crime reduction may have been largely due to the national program phasing out leaded gasoline and other lead abatement measures in NYC 20 years earlier. Understandably, Mayor Giuliani would not be happy with this interpretation since his whole public life is built upon his saving NYC from crime.
The plausible theory that a very large portion of crime is caused lead poisoning has very widespread implications in the fields of religion and psychiatry. Admitting that much crime is caused by a disease or ingestion of a poisonous substance greatly reduces the importance of man’s “sinful nature” in causing crime. This could be very disturbing to Christian fundamentalists. Psychiatry would need to consider criminal behavior as a possible physical illness instead of just a personality disorder. I am sure there are many more implications of which I am not aware.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, psychiatrist, lawyer, legal or health care professional. This article is for informational purposes only. It is not the purpose of this article to give medical or legal advice. I am only relating my opinions and experiences and my opinions could be wrong. Any actions you take or do not take as a result of reading this article, you take at your own risk. Always seek advice from a doctor, lawyer or legal or health care professional before making any legal or health care decisions.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry/”Lead Exposure is Children Affects Brain and Behavior”/American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Shankar Vedantam/”:Research Links Lead Exposure, Criminal Activity”/Washington Post