Childhood lead exposure can increase the risk of aggressive crime later in life, according to recent study
03/04/2016 / By Greg White / Comments
Childhood lead exposure can increase the risk of aggressive crime later in life, according to recent study

Children exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan have an increased risk of aggressive crime later in life. That is at least what a population study published in the journal Environmental Health would seem to suggest, which found a link between aggressive crime and children exposed to lead particles in Australia.

The researchers found that “after controlling for major socio-demographic correlates of crime there is a strong positive relationship between lead in air levels and subsequent crime rates.” Mark Taylor, a professor of environmental science at Macquarie University who headed the study, said the study was unprecedented in the sense that it was the first time Australian researchers tested for a link between childhood lead exposure and aggressive crime.

“This is further proof that childhood exposures to neurotoxins, such as those released during the period of leaded petrol use have lifelong effects,” he said.

Taking socioeconomic backgrounds into consideration

The team did not find a link between childhood lead exposure and fraud after taking socioeconomic backgrounds into consideration. Unlike aggression, fraud is regarded as a “pre-meditated” crime. The results of the study suggest that lead could be the real criminal behind aggressive behavior.

“Crimes of aggression are considered impulsive crimes and the study showed quite clearly that that the highest assault rates were found in places of highest lead exposure,” Science Alert reports.

Blood levels among Australians have experienced a significant drop since lead was removed from petrol in 2002, the study pressed, which was aided by rules established in 1997 which reduced the amount of lead levels in paint. Exposure to lead early in life stymies the development of the brain, which manifests as increased levels of aggression later in life.


“After controlling for socio-demographic variables, the study showed that the concentration of lead particles in the air reliably predicted changes in the rates of aggressive crime. Lead was the strongest predictor is our study model and it explained 30 percent of the variance in assault rates 21 years later,” noted Taylor.

The six suburbs across New South Whales (NSW) included Boolaroo, Earlwood, Lane Cove, Port Kembla, Rozelle, and Rydalmere. The data was collected at both a state and national level. On a state level, there was a strong correlation between total petrol lead emission and death in NSW and Victoria. On a national level, there was a correlation between lead and death by assault cases, but the connection was tenuous.

Short-term exposure, long-term consequences

Although the study was limited to air-borne particles, the results illustrate the long-term damage of short-term exposure to high levels of lead:

“Lead has important effects on brain development in children, affecting intelligence, academic achievement and behaviour. As disadvantage and crime are closely correlated with the prevalence of poor academic performance, it is perhaps not surprising that an association between criminality and lead exposure in childhood may exist,” Merlin Thomas, an adjunct professor or prevent medicine at Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute who was not involved in the study, told sources.

If the results of the research are true, then it means children who drank toxic lead in Flint, Michigan now have an increased risk for aggression; however, this won’t be known for years. What makes this all the more sad is that such an incident didn’t have to occur. The EPA was aware that the Flint River was contaminated, but failed to alert the public as the city of Flint temporarily drew water from the toxic stream. In other words, the EPA allowed the children of Flint, Michigan to drink lead contaminated water.

“At the same time, it is nonetheless disturbing and more importantly is potentially preventable,” Thomas concluded.

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