Environmentalists Unknowingly Took A Hard Line On Crime: They Got The Lead Out


According to a newly published piece of peer reviewed research, "The United States has had two spikes of lead poisoning: one at the turn of the 20th century, linked to lead in household paint, and one after World War II, when the use of leaded gasoline increased sharply. Both times, the violent crime rate went up and down in concert, with the violent crime peaks coming two decades after the lead poisoning peaks.

The finding seems to address "why rates of violent crime among black adolescents from inner-city neighborhoods have declined faster than the overall crime rate -- lead amelioration programs had the biggest impact on the urban poor. Children in inner-city neighborhoods were the ones most likely to be poisoned by lead, because they were more likely to live in substandard housing that had lead paint and because public housing projects were often situated near highways."To address a broader point, let's assume that these findings will be corroborated.

Before the ban on leaded gasoline was initiated in the early 1970s', US refiners and auto makers resisted restrictions on the basis of scientific uncertainty, just as they have more recently, on the matter of human-causation of climate change. No one would have ever guessed, in 1970, that the neurological effects of childhood lead exposures could be associated, almost 40 years later, with causation of crime. The estimated cost/benefit ratio of the projected lead phaseout seems, in retrospect, to have been conservative.

Reflecting on this, how shall we anticipate the cost benefit ratio for climate protections? Is it reasonable to make an analogy, in hindsight, to the cost benefit of lead restrictions?

Imagination is more limiting than the spreadsheet. Faith in the future, more valuable than fear of it.

The cited work of R. Nevin was published in Environmental Research
Volume 104, Issue 3, July 2007, Pages 315-336. See full abstract below.

Via:: Washington Post

Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure

Rick Nevin
National Center for Healthy Housing, USA
Received 12 August 2006; revised 20 February 2007; accepted 23 February 2007. Available online 23 April 2007.


This study shows a very 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. The relationship is characterized by best-fit lags (highest R2 and t-value for blood lead) consistent with neurobehavioral damage in the first year of life and the peak age of offending for index crime, burglary, and violent crime. The impact of blood lead is also evident in age-specific arrest and incarceration trends. Regression analysis of average 1985–1994 murder rates across USA cities suggests that murder could be especially associated with more severe cases of childhood lead poisoning.

Keywords: Lead poisoning; Crime; IQ; Behavior; Violence

Image credit:: Everything Old is New Again: Lead Poisoning

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