The Link Between Lead & Violent Crime

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kevin Drum, columnist for Mother Jones, discusses studies that demonstrate a link between the concentration of lead in the atmosphere and violent crime rates.



Kevin Drum

Comments [20]

Noa(c)h Rothstein

Public Service Announcement:

If you have old pipes, be sure that they are flushed before taking water for consumption. Maybe someone else has the actual numbers handy but I think it's something like if the water hasn't been run for six hours or more, you should let it run for at least two minutes in a private home and thirty seconds in a building.

Jan. 15 2013 12:45 PM
Noa(c)h Rothstein from Brooklyn

@Ed from Larchmont:

While I'm not sure this is the proper place for a discussion of abortion, since you have raised it, I would like to at least say the following.

Surely a culture that sanctions abortion-on-demand at any point in pregnancy, for any reason, has to send a message, on some level at least, that life is disposable. I find it difficult to imagine that this, in turn, would have no effect whatsoever on violence and aggression in that same society.

Jan. 15 2013 12:33 PM
BarbC from Montclair, NJ

Nothing was said about the amount of atmospheric lead from incineration. (yes, Larry from Nyack, coal-fire plants give off lead, but the other emissions are probably even more dangerous.) In Newark, Covanta's mass-burn garbage incinerator has been emitting hundreds of thousands of pounds of lead into the lungs of Newark's children... and since air pollution moves with wind, into other 'downwind' kids as well.

Covanta was successfully sued in 2010 and they now have to implement better emission controls: we have yet to see how effective this will be. But for decades, the NJDEP had been rubber-stamping the pollution permit for years, despite continued Clean Air Act violations.

I vividly remember a testimony at the 2009 permit hearing by Dr. Peter Montague, a retired Princeton and Rutgers professor, and noted Environmental Justice activist. He noted the pollution data showed the Newark Covanta incinerator was emitting *13,140 pounds of lead every year*... and compared that to "millions of lead bullets being fired into the brains of Newark's children." You couldn't even hear breathing in the room, everyone was so stunned.

This testimony may be available other places, but I found it online here:

Lead from municipal incinerators MUST be part of this discussion.

(and don't stress out about the lead in the urban farm eggs: if you live near, you already breathed more than that: whatever got into the eggs got into you too... fight the big fights.)

Jan. 15 2013 12:32 PM

you know how freakonomics is a writer and a (dismal, in that case) scientist?

if your guest wants people to consider his theory (for what reason, I don't know) he needs a single scientist to back him up.

Jan. 15 2013 11:47 AM

"lead in eggs raised in NYC"... oh no! i'm trying to imagine a violent hipster... need some help here...

Jan. 15 2013 11:42 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Such utter nonsense. What lowered crime in NY was (a) Mayor Giuliani and (b) the million man march, and especially (c) the election of a black president. Getting rid of lead was an environmentally good thing, but to link it to crime reduction is the height of absurdity.

Jan. 15 2013 11:41 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Community policing actually started during the Dinkins administration, as did the drop in crime in NYC (don't know if/how this applies to other cities).

Jan. 15 2013 11:41 AM
Larry from Nyack

Also, what is the effect of burning coal: is there a significant amount of lead in coal burning?

Jan. 15 2013 11:41 AM

ladyjay114 I had that internal convo before posting and guess I think it is too hard to distinguish wars -- especially today's wars, which pivot around ignorance, child soldiers, rape and terrorism) -- from acts of violent crime.

Jan. 15 2013 11:40 AM
Cody from NYC

I'm highly skeptical but, to perhaps address this, has the author examined varying crime rates that correlate to differences in lead concentrations?

Jan. 15 2013 11:40 AM

is public housing free of lead??

Jan. 15 2013 11:39 AM
Larry from Nyack

Please ask Mr. Drum what effect the removal of lead from paint and remediation of lead paint in public housing has had.

Jan. 15 2013 11:38 AM
Julian from Manhattan

As superf88 says, we should see a similar pattern elsewhere. What about Western European countries, where a similar pattern of adding lead to gas and then removing it around the same time that it was done in the U.S.?

Jan. 15 2013 11:38 AM
Jessie Henshaw from Way Uptown

Kevin, you have to read

You're picking out all the right evidence, but I'm way ahead of you.

Jan. 15 2013 11:37 AM
Bob from Pelham, NY

It's an interesting theory, but where is the scientific evidence? Correlation doesn't prove causation -- e.g., the climate is getting warmer, maybe that is driving down crime.

Jan. 15 2013 11:37 AM
fuva from harlemworld

The incidence and reduction of crime is multifactorial. We need someone to illustrate how the various factors -- perhaps including this one -- interact.

Jan. 15 2013 11:35 AM
The Truth from Becky

No, really? I don't believe it.

Jan. 15 2013 11:34 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The murder numbers don't count our unborn brothers and sisters, especially in NY.

Jan. 15 2013 11:32 AM

I think bad diet has more of a link to violent behavior than lead does.

But superf88, don't mix violent crime with war. Syria, Mali and Pakistan are mired in war, but not in violent crime. War is political, crime is behavioral.

Jan. 15 2013 11:11 AM

if true then the countries to which america has exported its most polluted industries -- -- any third world country doused in lead but china in particular --would be the world's most violent. Which they are not.

In fact, to test your theory, would one simply start with the most violent countries (right now Syria, Mali, Pakistan, etc.) and then test lead levels?

Jan. 15 2013 10:40 AM

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