Lead and Crime

What ever happened to Cleveland's Summer Crime wave?

Remember just last summer when the pols and the media flipped out over a summer surge in crimes involving African American Youth? This week two relics of the "military response" to the headlines came home to roost.

Page down for more info on communicating with the public and public officials.

The Lead Crime Hypothesis

The causes of urban crime is complicated. For a long time childhood lead poisoning was linked to teen/young adult violence. In the past year, two new meta-studies have supported the hypothesis that there is an association between childhood lead exposure and adolescent and adult involvement in anti-social behaviors. This is called the Lead Crime Hypothesis. 

When policy makers recommend shotspotter cameras, more mental health services, and better policing...they are missing some key factors that include early identification of lead exposure, prompt mitigation of neurological damage, and removal of lead hazards from housing, soil, and water.

Maria Jose Talayero Schettino, lead author on the latest study of the Lead-Crime correlation was CLASH's guest at two events on October 27 and 28th. You can get a preview of her study on Vimeo. Her study is found at The association between lead exposure and crime: A systematic review.

Criminal Researcher Robert Sampson connects the dots between lead, crime and environmental justice. "Lead toxicity is therefore a pathway through which environmental inequality literally gets into the mind and body, with both individual and social consequences. Its eradication is a central component of tackling broader racial and other social inequalities in human development." In an interview with Vital City, Dr. Sampson observes that "Lead exposure is another pathway that has contributed to not just racial inequality but all kinds of inequalities among children, such as cognitive deficits and behavioral problems. When I first saw the map of the distribution of lead poisoning among kids in Chicago, I almost fell out of my chair because it was so stark, so concentrated, so racially segregated — more so than poverty." 

Telling the Public about Lead and Crime

One study which was done at CWRU found "Children with elevated lead levels were 25-30% more likely to enter the juvenile justice system; and 34% more likely to be incarcerated as adults (age 18 to 23)." While this seems like a "seat of the pants" study that was never published in a scientific journal, the results mirror the academic studies listed below.

Other links to Lead and Crime

Bone lead levels in adjudicated delinquents A case control study "The goal of this study is to evaluate the association between lead exposure, as reflected in bone lead levels, and adjudicated delinquency. Methods: This is a case-control study of 194 youths aged 12 – 18, arrested and adjudicated as delinquent by the Juvenile Court of Allegheny County, PA and 146 nondelinquent controls from high schools in the city of Pittsburgh. Conclusion: Elevated body lead burdens, measured by bone lead concentrations, are associated with elevated risk for adjudicated delinquency.  The classic Herbert Needleman study of 2002

May 28, 2021 PNAS. The impact of childhood lead exposure on adult personality: Evidence from the United States, Europe, and a large-scale natural experimentRelated news story.

The Effect of Early Childhood Education on Adult Criminality: Evidence from the 1960s through 1990s "We compare the effects of early childhood education on adult criminal behavior across time periods, using administrative crime data that provide significant precision advantages over existing work. We find that improvements in early childhood education led to large (20 percent) reductions in later criminal behavior, reductions that far exceed those implied by estimates of test score gains in prior studies. While the benefits generated account for a large portion of the costs of the education provided, we find substantial relative gains from the targeting of funds to high-poverty areas and areas without existing access to subsidized care.

Association of childhood blood lead levels with firearm violence perpetration and victimization in Milwaukee 







October 01 2019 Lead and Juvenile Delinquency: New Evidence from Linked Birth, School, and Juvenile Detention Records Abstract Using a unique data set linking preschool blood lead levels, birth, school, and detention records for 125,000 children born between 1990 and 2004 in Rhode Island, we estimate the impact of lead on school suspension and juvenile detention. Sibling fixed-effect models suggest that omitted variables related to family disadvantage do not bias OLS estimates. However, measurement error does. We use IV methods that exploit local (within-neighborhood), variation in lead exposure deriving from road proximity and the deleading of gasoline. For boys, a 1 unit increase in lead increased the probability of suspension from school by 6% and detention by 57%.

Developmental lead exposure and adult criminal behavior: A 30-year prospective birth cohort study. "Using a variety of research designs and measures of lead absorption, numerous studies link childhood lead exposure to a range of cognitive and behavioral deficits, including low IQ, impulsivity, juvenile delinquency, and criminal behavior in adolescence and early adulthood. In this study, we tested the association between multiple measures of blood lead concentration assessed in childhood with criminal behavior in adulthood and across the life-course. Prospective data from the Cincinnati Lead Study (CLS) included blood lead measures quarterly across the first 78 months of life and the number of times a person was arrested across the life-course (from age 18 to 33 years) and in later adulthood (age 27 to 33 years). Childhood blood lead concentration prospectively predicted variation in adult arrests and arrests over the life-course, indicating lead absorption is implicated in the etiology of crime—especially in geographic areas where environmental sources of lead are more prevalent and concentrated. Efforts to decrease lead exposure in both developed and developing countries should be part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce social dislocation and crime.

CLASH president Yvonka Hall addresses establishment attacks on black and brown youths in Cleveland. 


I have been away traveling and experienced the sudden death of my grandma over the last two months. I have tried to keep up with what is going on in my city in regards to crime. I have seen articles where our Police Chief calls the youth that are commenting crimes animals. I realized that no matter how much data we have to talk about the impact of lead poisoning we have yet to fully grasp the impact of lead poisoning. The true criminals in all.of this are those that have done very little to actually address the magnitude of lead poisoning. Making an announcement without following through makes them as culpable as Sherwin Williams. Before Mayor Bibb was elected I had a conversation with him about lead poisoning being public enemy number one. I have heard him and others quote me verbatim but quoting and understanding the magnitude of this life altering issue are two separate things. Council President Griffin worked hard to shut down CLASH in our call for a lead safe Cleveland. He even worked with the foundations to start an organization that sounded very similar to our Cleveland Lead Safe Network our precursor to CLASH. Where is he at now? Silence in a matter that he seemed to be so vocal about. 

Lead is public enemy number one because it is a neurotoxin that robs young people of their ability to think. Lead goes from the blood to the bone and then to major organs as we age. Lead Poisoning impacts infant and maternal mortality, oral health, heart disease, kidney disease and dementia but we don't talk about that. We understand that reasoning skills or the frontal lobe of the brain doesn't fully develop until the late twenties. This is the reason why when young people do things that don't make sense when asked about it their response is a resounding " I don't know", now let's throw lead into the response. They really don't know, understand or comprehend yet society penalizes them for the harm caused by a society that judges Black and brown youth on perfection and then throws them in jail after they have been poisoned. These children are victims.

We have to do everything that we can to address lead. We need to do something about food apartheid which makes it nearly impossible for many communities to acquire fresh fruits and vegetables, we have to do all that we can to make sure that are housing is addressed and fixed, daycares are made to comply with lead poisoning requirements,  youth that are in the care of the County are provided with fresh fruits abd vegetables, mental health services and so much more, we have to address healthy kids meal options in fast food restaurants that are flooding urban areas, we must do something about menthol is cigarettes and vaping devices because lead is found in tobacco, lead is also found in marijuana. We have to address mental health.

The lead and crime hypothesis is real and we have to make sure that we are following the flow of the money that should be used to address lead. We have to call out the actual causes of violence and address the solutions. We can't continue to blame the victims but to put the blame where it lies. Corporate greed has allowed our communities children to be robbed of a beautiful mind.

Lead and Crime more studies