Tetraethyl Lead and Crime

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Mother Jones political blogger Kevin Drum discusses what may be the hidden villain behind rampant crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic: tetraethyl lead. In his article "Criminal Element," he postulates that lead in gasoline may account for 90 percent of the fluctuations in violent crime over the last 50 years, and he shows the upside to investing in lead abatement. The article appears in the January/February issue of the magazine.


Kevin Drum

Comments [19]

mary mills from Jersey City

Author says he expected correlation but nothing like the strength of this relationship. Way over pi. He ran several exercises to factor out obvious explanations like poverty and related issues by useing very different communities. I dont understand how cause and effect are not possible. Neurological affects at lower and lower levels are well documented.

Feb. 17 2013 12:38 AM
Tamara Rubin from Portland, Oregon

For more information about this issue, check our our website - we are making a documentary feature film on the subject and you can check out our draft trailer for the film here: My children were poisoned in 2005 and resources for families with poisoned children can be found here Thanks Kevin for bringing attention to this important issue!
Please also like the film's facebook page for updates and new information:

Jan. 05 2013 03:39 PM
Vincent Granville

This study is flawed. Read my explanations, and how to fix this study, at

Jan. 04 2013 02:40 AM


lots of people in other countries today (see China) are being doused in lead -- not many murders though!
mexico doesn't have lead and the country is overrun with murder...
cool theory in a vacuum.

Jan. 03 2013 10:05 PM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

What the guest just said about catalytic converters requiring lead free fuel is false.

I knew a GM engineer at the time catalytic converters were being introduced & there were versions that worked with leaded gas. The catalytic converters that were used were chosen so that lead would also be removed from gas (and we can see that that was a good thing).

Jan. 03 2013 02:00 PM
Joe from Long Island

This makes me think of Monona Rossol who was just on the show yesterday. Tetraethyl lead was a chemical additive that we lived with for years before realizing it is a problem. Think of all the other chemicals out there! We keep making new ones and there is almost no testing or regulation. This is truly "making lab rats of us all."

Jan. 03 2013 01:59 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

This discussion, like so many others on this show, is quite spurious and really reaching; the genius guest attaches one small, possible factor to a problem and attempts to make this element into a significant theory.

Jan. 03 2013 01:58 PM
oscar from ny

I read the most criminals on earth are libras "zodiac sign"...hmmm i know that libra ppl are balances, so whenever you meet one its like meeting yourself, they're like reflectors..

Jan. 03 2013 01:58 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

There's a joke in here somewhere about inner city gangstas gettin' pumped fulla lead ...

Jan. 03 2013 01:53 PM
Tom B. from upper west side

As a child in the early 60's, by accident, I jabbed myself with a pencil. I have had a gray spot in the palm of my hand ever since. I have always been a law abiding citizen. Are there any possible side effects I should be aware of?

Jan. 03 2013 01:53 PM
Momma Data from New Jersey

Let's be clear, lead might have contributed to any number of poor health outcomes but these are not demonstrated "effects" as Mr. Drum has stated. There are likely a cess pool of confounding factors at play too. It simply isn't accurate to say lead has an "effect" on IQ, ADHD, child development or crime at this point. Unless it's a random experiment we really must forgo the causal language.

Jan. 03 2013 01:51 PM
Genevieve from Chatham, NJ

Isn't it more likely that crime is associated with poverty and that the impoverished are more likely to be exposed to lead?

Jan. 03 2013 01:51 PM
Zemilio from Seattle

Is lead in gasoline still being used in other countries?

Jan. 03 2013 01:50 PM
Ken from UWS

Couldn't this be a case of a spurious correlation? That is, the rise and fall of lead use corresponds pretty closely with the rise and aging of the baby boom generation.

Jan. 03 2013 01:46 PM
gene from NYC

I believe Leonard interviewed Lukacs of "Inventing Wine" who said lead was added to city water, to sweeten it, in Athens and Rome.

Jan. 03 2013 01:46 PM
Amy from Manhattan

There's also been lead in ceramics, both in some ancient cultures & in modern Western culture, at least until recently.

Jan. 03 2013 01:45 PM
Jared from NYC

In NYC, Lead in Drinking Water is a huge source of lead poisoning. It comes through lead plumbing soldering.

Jan. 03 2013 01:42 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I think the unit is the other way around: mg/dL (milligrams of lead per 1/10 liter of blood). I know they use that for blood sugar.

Jan. 03 2013 01:42 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

I thought the Roe v Wade theory attributed the rise in crime to the baby boomers, the population surplus coupled with the sexual revolution.

Jan. 03 2013 01:36 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.