Lead and Crime

On the WKSU Sound of Ideas on August 11, 2023, panelists on the weekly news roundup struggled to get their heads around the complexity of youth violence, but everytime someone suggested "it's complicated" the host said "but we have to act now". Unfortunately long term solutions require long term investments. We can't solve climate change with a couple of snowstorms.

When we're thinking about how to describe the Lead-crime hypothesis, we need to know how this idea sounds to the average viewer. Channel 19 has posted their coverage of the BBCI/BLMCC demonstration at City Hall on YouTube. It is interesting to see the skepticism by the viewers. Their reactions can help us shape the message. 

 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)." Alas, this seems like a "seat of the pants" study that was never published in a scientific journal. Still, the results seem to mirror one of the most recent meta-studies of lead and crime. 

Lead and Crime revisited: 2 new studies

August 1, 2023, PLOS Global Public Health. The association between lead exposure and crime: A systematic review. "Our review, in conjunction with the available biological evidence, suggests that an excess risk for criminal behavior in adulthood exists when an individual is exposed to lead in utero or in the early years of childhood."

August 1, 2023. Studyfinds.org. Lead exposure during childhood could lead to a life of crime in adulthood. " Exposure to lead during childhood or even in the womb may predispose individuals to criminal behavior later in life, a new study reveals. A research team from George Washington University discovered that children who had higher levels of the toxic metal in their bodies were more likely to engage in criminal activities as adults. They found this correlation applicable to children exposed to lead both during their mother’s pregnancy and their first few years of life. 'Children do not absorb or metabolize lead in the same way as adults and are far more susceptible to the negative impacts of lead exposure due to a hyper-permeable blood-brain barrier and rapidly developing organ systems,' says Dr. Maria Jose Talayero Schettino, the lead researcher of the study, in the journal PLOS Global Public Health. 'This review demonstrates an association between exposure to lead and the later development of delinquent, antisocial, and criminal behavior.' Study here

Thanks to ZacheryB for sharing

Wait. there's more 

The Lead Crime Hypothesis

The cause of urban crime is complicated. For a long time childhood lead poisoning was linked to teen/young adult violence. This is called the Lead Crime Hypothesis. Now, a new meta-study (an analysis of past studies) says: "Our estimates suggest the abatement of lead pollution may be responsible for 7–28% of the fall in homicide in the US. Given the historically higher urban lead levels, reduced lead pollution accounted for 6–20% of the convergence in US urban and rural crime rates. Lead increases crime, but does not explain the majority of the fall in crime observed in some countries in the 20th century." 

When policy makers suggest shotspotter cameras, more mental health services, and better policing...they are missing key factors: early identification of lead exposure, prompt mitigation of neurological damage and removal of lead hazards from housing, soil, and water. A 6-20% connection between lead and crime is serious. 

CLASH cites Robert Sampson about the continuing impact of lead exposure on African American communities: "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 sees removal of lead as a keystone for social and environmental justice. "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. But the positive story is that the public health department in Chicago was incredibly aggressive about forcing landlords to remove lead paint in housing. And the lead levels just plummeted over time. It’s still true that poor neighborhoods and African American neighborhoods still have higher levels, but levels are so much lower for everybody, that has to be taken as good news. It’s not a perfect world, but it has improved in this way." 

From CLASH's point of view, Cleveland and surrounding suburbs should be just as aggressive with lead hazard control.