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Tag: kevin drum

Column: Could it Be Moderate Lead Exposure is a Primary Cause of Crime? Maybe

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office. He is the author of the book “Carving Out the Rule of Law: The History of the United States Attorney’s Office in Eastern Michigan 1815–2008″.

Ross Parker

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Perhaps you, like me, have blithely assumed declining crime rates are due to some wonderfully fortunate combination of social factors.

Not so, says Kevin Drum in a fascinating, recent article in Mother Jones. Citing dozens of crime causality studies, he makes a provocative and convincing case that a generation of children’s exposure to lead has spiked violent crime far more than any other social factors.

The quadrupling of lead emissions into the atmosphere by leaded gasoline in the mid-20th century was followed, 20 years later, by a startlingly similar increase in the crime rate in the ‘60s through the ‘80s. Likewise, when the former declined after the Clean Air Act removed lead from gasoline, so did the latter in a statistical curve suggesting strong correlation, if not causation. Studies in other countries seem to reaffirm this hypothesis.

And Drum asserts that the remaining detritus of lead in the soil and the environment will continue to influence the crime rate until radical and expensive action is taken to remove it. These expenditures, however, will be more than offset by a multi-fold financial benefit in lower health and crime costs, he believes.

Much of the heavy lifting on this issue has been done by Amherst College Professor Jessica Wolpaw Reyes who compared Massachusetts kids’ 1990 lead exposure with their 2000 test scores and behavior problem records. She found even moderately elevated blood lead levels could be responsible for increased adult aggressiveness and violent criminal behavior. Reyes hypothesizes that it may also cause a tendency toward impulsive behavior, ADHD, substance abuse and a host of other social ills.

Unlike most of her colleagues, Professor Reyes writes with a minimum of unexplained geek-speak that is clear enough for even federal pensioners to understand.

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