The links Between Lead and Violence in the US

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May 7, 2013
Lead Poisoning and Crime: Why the Pipeline to Prison is Running Dry


Baltimore’s Toxic Legacy Of Lead Paint

State tests found more than 65,000 children in the city with dangerously high blood-lead levels from 1993 to 2013. Across the United States, more than half a million kids are poisoned by lead each year, and the majority come from cities like Baltimore: rust belt towns built up during the first half of the 20th century when leaded paint was dominant. As populations and employment opportunities shrank in recent decades, poverty and neglect combined with older housing allowed lead paint poisoning to plague the city.

Despite sharp declines, the city of Baltimore still has nearly three times the national rate of lead poisoning among children, and a look at the data reveals that, like other health disparities, just a handful of neighborhoods are responsible for almost all of the city’s cases over the last five years. Sandtown is one of them.

But even these relatively stark statistics hide much of the problem. The data here represents children with blood-lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dL), while the acceptable limit was halved to 5ug/dL by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 after decades of research showed there is no safe threshold for lead exposure. More than a thousand children tested for blood-lead levels between 5 and 9 ug/dL in 2013 in Baltimore, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.


Lead in the Inner Cities

Figure 5. Two different-sized lead particles are spewed into the air when leaded gasoline is used. The trajectory of a typical particle is indicated by the blue arrows (top). Larger, heavier particles settle near the street. Smaller particles are carried by the wind until they meet a barrier, such as a tree or a house, to which they stick. Eventually, they are washed into the soil by rain. Lighter particles can be carried a greater distance and are eventually scavenged by precipitation and then fall to the ground. Assuming unpainted homes, the graph (bottom) generalizes the quantity of lead in the soil around an inner-city home situated about 7 meters from a heavily traveled road versus around a home more than 25 meters from the road.
Edward Roberts

Early in the 1990s a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called lead poisoning "one of the most common pediatric health problems in the United States today," but added that it was entirely preventable. To prevent poisoning, our author argues, one must accurately assess the sources of lead. Since lead was removed from gasoline before 1980, most people assume that old paint and old plumbing are the primary sources of lead today. Not so, says the author, who finds lead in greatest abundance in soil, primarily in the impoverished areas of large cities. The soil, he says, absorbed and retained the metal from leaded gasoline. The revised assessment leads the author to propose new policies for preventing the poisoning that leaves its young victims intellectually impaired.


Long-term study links common psychiatric disorders with increased risk of violent reoffending in ex-prisoners
September 2, 2015
The Lancet
Ex-prisoners with common psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder) and alcohol and drug abuse are substantially more likely to commit a violent crime after release than other prisoners, according to new research. The study of almost 48000 ex-prisoners suggests that diagnosed psychiatric disorders are potentially responsible for up to a fifth of violent reoffending by former male prisoners and two-fifths by female ex-prisoners.



In the second half of the nineteenth century, many American cities built water systems
using lead or iron service pipes. Municipal water systems generated significant public
health improvements, but these improvements may have been partially offset by the
damaging effects of lead exposure through lead water pipes. We study the effect of
cities’ use of lead pipes on homicide between 1921 and 1936. Lead water pipes exposed
entire city populations to much higher doses of lead than have previously been studied
in relation to crime. Our estimates suggest that cities’ use of lead service pipes considerably
increased city-level homicide rates.
JEL codes: Q53, N32, K42
May 7, 2013
America's lead poisoning problem isn't just in Flint. It’s everywhere.

The city of Flint, Michigan, is in the midst of a terrible and rightly shocking lead poisoning crisis. The number of kids testing positive for elevated lead levels in their bloodstreams has doubled in the past few years, after the city switched to a new, cheaper water source.

This is an extreme case, but the problem of lead exposure among children is not a local Flint story. If you look at public health data, you begin to realize two things. The first is that it's actually really hard to get good data on which kids do and don't experience lead exposure, and which parents should worry about the issue.

Second: The data that is available shows that lead exposure is a pervasive issue in the United States. In some places outside of Flint, more than half of children test positive for lead poisoning.

Houston County, Alabama, is, in a lot of ways, an unremarkable place. It has just over 100,000 residents and sits in the southeast corner of the state, bordering Florida and Georgia. Median household income there is about $40,000, slightly lower than average for the state.

But there is one way Houston County does stand out: In 2014, it reported the highest rate of lead poisoning in the nation of any counties that sent data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Houston County tested 12 children for lead poisoning in 2014, which it defines as kids who have more than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Seven of those tests came back positive.

Nine counties nationwide told the CDC that 10 percent or more of their lead poisoning tests came back positive. Four of them are in Louisiana, two in Alabama, and the rest scattered across West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Oklahoma.

These are places that have told the federal government they actually have higher rates of lead poisoning than Flint, where officials say the number hovers around 4 percent. But these aren't places we talk about that much.

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