NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 30, 2007

For decades, researchers have known that lead poisoning lowers children's IQs and puts them at risk for severe learning disabilities and more impulsive, sometimes violent behavior.  New research increasingly suggests that lead also affects long-term juvenile and adult crime rates, says USA Today.

Among the most startling findings:

  • A pair of studies by economist Rick Nevin suggests the nation's violent-crime rate in the second half of the 20th century is closely tied to the widespread consumption of leaded gasoline.
  • According to Nevin, the trend lines match almost perfectly -- Leaded-gas use climbed in the 1940s and fell in the early 1970s; 23 years later, rates for violent crime followed in near unison.
  • Its gradual demise in the 1970s, he says, did more to stop violent crime among people who came of age in its wake than any social policy.

But Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says there are many more factors to consider -- economic trends, incarceration policies and policing strategies, among others -- before researchers can tie long-term violence levels and lead so closely.

"There is probably a real correlation, but we simply don't know if there is a real causal connection," says Rosenfeld.

Source: Greg Toppo, "Lead exposure, crime seem to correlate," USA Today, October 30, 2007.

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