Most of the nation’s papers are carrying stories today about the release of results from the most comprehensive study to date, conducted by researchers at University of Cincinnati, looking at the links between exposure to lead in early childhood, predominantly through contact with lead paint, and criminal behavior later in life.
Here’s a clip from the LA Times story:
The first study to follow lead-exposed children from before birth into adulthood has shown that even relatively low levels of lead permanently damage the brain and are linked to higher numbers of arrests, particularly for violent crime.
Previous studies linking lead to such problems have used indirect measures of both lead and criminality, and critics have argued that socioeconomic and other factors may be responsible for the observed effects.
But by measuring blood levels of lead before birth and during the first seven years of life, then correlating the levels with arrest records and brain size, Cincinnati researchers have produced the strongest evidence yet that lead plays a major role in crime.
The researchers also found that lead exposure is a continuing problem despite the efforts of the federal government and cities to minimize exposure.
The average lead levels in the study “unfortunately are still seen in many thousands of children throughout the United States,” said Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
The link between criminal behavior and lead exposure was found among even the least-contaminated children in the study, who were exposed to amounts of lead similar to what the average U.S. child is exposed to today, said Landrigan, who was not involved in the study.
Read the rest here. And I blogged about the issue previously here.
Science Daily has even more information on the study. Here’s a quick clip from what they wrote:
….researchers recruited pregnant women living in Cincinnati neighborhoods with a higher concentration of older, lead-contaminated housing. Recruitment took place at four prenatal clinics between 1979 and 1984. Dietrich’s team has monitored this population group since birth to assess the long-term health effects of early-life lead exposure.
Of the original 376 newborns recruited, 250 were identified for the current study. Researchers measured blood-lead levels during pregnancy and then at regular intervals until the children were 6 Â½ years old to calculate cumulative lead exposure.
Blood-lead level data was then correlated with public criminal arrest records from a search of Hamilton County, Ohio, criminal justice records. These records provided information about the nature and extent of arrests and were coded by category: violent, property, drugs, fraud, obstruction of justice, serious motor vehicle, disorderly conduct and other offenses.
Researchers found that individuals with increased blood-lead levels before birth and during early childhood had higher rates of arrest–for both violent and total crimes–than the rest of the study population after age 18.
By the way, about a year ago, when researchers tried to link drops in crime in certain urban areas to lead abatement in the area decades earlier, law enforcement types from Bill Bratton to Rudy Giuliani labeled the notion “absurd.” (Back then I did a round up on the issue here
MEANWHILE…..yesterday the Defense Department announced that 40,000 American service people have been diagnosed with PTSD since 2003. Moreover the number of cases diagnosed jumped by 50 percent in 2007 over 2006. The feds also said that, since people are worried about reporting, this may be the tip of the iceberg.
Given that lead poisoning among the young is a serious problem and can lead to serious neurological problems the links between lead and later violence is not proved. The correlation between blood levels of lead and later arrests may have more to do with neighborhood environments – i.e. I suspect that a child in Watts is more likely to come in contact with law enforcement in an unfavorable way than a child in Irvine and I’ll bet the Irvine child has lower lead levels as well.
Richard, I think you may be right, frankly.
When I was a kid, we had radioactive fallout from atomic tests and thought that playing with mercury was fun, and we made it…well, some of us.
Really, what is it with all the lead concerns all of a sudden? Is this the new cause “for the children” and there was some planned release date for studies? Eleven per cent of Mount Isa children have lead poisoning
Is anyone concerned about the products and toys from China containing lead paint?
Regarding rlc’s conclusion, maybe parents in Irvine care more about their kids and do more to protect them than doped up parents in Watts.
I have no doubt that lead does cause brain damage, but the study seems meaningless.