lead pollution

Violent crime has often been attributed to many causes in the UK. However a number of studies have helped to highlight the link between the pollution in our water and increasing levels of violent crime.

Excessive amounts of lead in the water and the air has been cited as one of the leading factors in crimes such as robbery, rape and assaults.

It is an idea that may seem ridiculous to many. Researchers from the Department of Sociology in Colorado State University and the Department of Criminology in the University of South Florida showed that in states where lead exposure was at its highest, violent crime levels rose dramatically.

The study supported previous findings from other scientists who had concluded that excessive lead exposure leads to aggressive and violent behaviour.

Although the results were predominantly based upon estimated lead concentrations within each city according to the number of cars, factories, and industrial work in those areas, the findings were consistent across all of the counties within 48 out of 51 states in America.

However, this is not the only study which has highlighted the association between lead and aggression.

A separate study published in Environmental Research revealed that gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

The research was conducted by Rick nevin who worked for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He said that emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America alone. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Additionally, Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, another researcher from Harvard University produced a  study which concluded that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime declined slowly. Where leaded gasoline declined quickly, crime declined quickly.

And not only does it increase crime rates, but it has also been shown to lower IQ and contribute to learning difficulties.

However, there is one study – one of the few of its kind – that completely disputes the claims that lead can lead to aggressive behaviour.

The trouble is, the study was conducted by the Ethyl Corporation – a major manufacturer of the petrol additive tetraethyl lead.
But all of the studies that documented the links between lead in the environment and violent behaviour pointed to the same patterns, despite being carried out in different geographical locations.

Violent crime peaked around 20 years after lead pollution peaks and then as lead is phased out or reduced in those cities, the level of crime also drops accordingly.

All of these patterns occur regardless of the demographic, or wealth of the population, although those factors do play a small part.

Another interesting factor is that those in the inner cities – where there tends to be a higher concentration of ethnic minorities – are often exposed to higher concentrations of lead.

One study, published in 1986, found that 18% of white children had over 20 milligrammes per decilitre of lead in their blood, compared to 52 per cent of black children.

A separate study revealed that between 1976 and 1980, black infants were eight times more likely to be carrying 40mg/dl of lead in their bodies.

Further research conducted in Cincinnati showed that youths who were arrested for delinquency were four times more likely to have lead in their bodies.

A meta-analysis (a study of studies) of 19 papers found no evidence that other factors explained the correlation between exposure to lead and conduct problems in young people.

However, despite the dangers that lead exposure clearly presents, tetraethyl lead is being exported to countries such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, Iraq, North Korea, Sierra Leone and Yemen, which are already plagued by conflicts and corrupt governments.

Further studies which document the link between lead and crime can be found here.

But lead is not the only pollutant to give rise to illnesses and violent behaviour. Another research paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information revealed that stress, childhood asthma and aggression has been linked to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is commonly emitted by vehicles.

The study concluded: “In urban settings, traffic-related air pollution may be elevated along with ETV (exposure to violence), and previous studies have linked traffic-related air pollution to asthma exacerbation and respiratory outcomes. In the United States and Europe, children living or attending school near truck routes and highways show increased asthma and allergy symptoms , hospitalizations, allergic rhinitis, and reduced lung function . Traffic-related pollutants have also been associated with asthma development.”

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