October 23, 2007

Leaded gasoline linked to increased violent crime

The NY Times discusses an interesting study that connects the removal of lead from gasoline with the drop in violent crime

Has the Clean Air Act done more to fight crime than any other policy in American history? That is the claim of a new environmental theory of criminal behavior.

In the early 1990s, a surge in the number of teenagers threatened a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. But to the surprise of some experts, crime fell steadily instead. even low levels of lead can cause brain damage that makes children less intelligent and, in some cases, more impulsive and aggressive. She also discovered that the main source of lead in the air and water had not been paint but rather leaded gasoline — until it was phased out in the 1970s and ’80s by the Clean Air Act, which took blood levels of lead for all Americans down to a fraction of what they had been.

Reyes found that the rise and fall of lead-exposure rates seemed to match the arc of violent crime, but with a 20-year lag — just long enough for children exposed to the highest levels of lead in 1973 to reach their most violence-prone years in the early ’90s, when crime rates hit their peak.


The correlation is across different states and countries who stopped using leaded gasoline at different times.

Here is the actual report

If this large an effect is true, it could also mean that the other toxins from fossil fuels could also be resulting in behavioral change that goes along with the health damage and death.

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