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Lead Poisoning Increases Violent Crime In Young Men


The Chicago Tribune has recently conducted an investigation into the problem of persistent lead poisoning in the city of Chicago.  Some parts of the city– notably the poor, black south and west sides– have high levels of lead poisoning demonstrated by measurements in school children.  In some neighborhoods, like Austin, Englewood, and Lawndale, more than 80% of children tested in 1995 had elevated lead levels.  These same neighborhoods now are areas with the highest rates of aggravated assault.  The Tribune states that there is more and more research evidence for a link between high lead levels and poor school performance due to interference with brain development, particularly in areas that control attention, emotions, and impulse control.  At the same time, there are more links between lead poisoning and youth crime, especially violent crime, again due to impaired brain development, with poor decision-making and impulse control.

Despite the removal of lead from gasoline and new paint, there are still many older dwellings that have been painted with lead-containing paint; this paint is now drying up and peeling off, forming a dust that is high in lead and permeates the interiors of these houses.  Houses like these are responsible for the high levels of lead poisoning in children seen in poor Chicago neighborhoods.

Funding for lead testing of children, property inspection, and amelioration of hazardous sites has been sharply cut back at both the federal and state level.  This will make it harder to detect the problem of lead pollution at the same time that we are being told lead is more dangerous than previously assumed.

If the problem of violent crime in Chicago, so intractable and inexplicable, is actually due to high levels of lead poisoning in young men, we would be doing ourselves an awful disservice by cutting funding for testing and amelioration.  We could save a bundle of money and possibly a lot of lives if we were to make a serious investment in ameliorating the problem of lead pollution and treating the young victims of lead poisoning in poor neighborhoods.

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