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Lead Exposure in Childhood Linked to Criminal Behavior Later
Date:5/28/2008

30-year study finds higher blood lead levels raised risk of arrest in adulthood

WEDNESDAY, May 28 (HealthDay News) -- Children who are exposed to lead at a young age are more likely to be arrested later in life.

A study in the May 27 issue of PLoS Medicine is the first empirical evidence that elevated blood lead levels, both in the pregnant mother and in the child, are associated with criminal behavior in young adulthood.

"I never would have thought that we would be seeing these effects into the later 20s," said study co-author Kim Dietrich, a professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati. "I'm actually quite astounded and quite worried about this. Although lead levels have been going down in this country, a large proportion of the population now in their 20s and 30s had blood levels in this neurotoxic range."

Childhood lead exposure has been linked with anti-social behavior, lower IQ, attention deficits, hyperactivity and weak executive control functions, all of which are risk factors for future delinquent behavior (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, in particular, is a risk factor for adult criminal behavior). Studies have also related sales of leaded gasoline or high atmospheric lead levels with criminal behavior.

Although use has been curtailed recently, in the past lead was widely used in paint, solder for water pipes and gasoline. The U.S. government banned lead paint and solder in 1978 and 1986, respectively. By 1996, leaded gasoline had been phased out. These efforts resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of U.S. children with blood lead levels considered "of concern" (from 13.5 million in 1978 to 310,000 in 2002).

But many older buildings, especially those in poor, inner-city neighborhoods, still have lead paint on the walls and windowsills. Earlier this year, the U.S. government issued new rules designed to protect children from exposure to lead
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