Is lead poisoning behind some juvenile crime?

No. “High” blood lead levels are a sign of poverty, which is associated with juvenile crime.

Media release below.


Is lead poisoning behind some juvenile crime?

Lead is a common element but is found in old paints (including those once used on children’s toys), soil, old piping, water, and the atmosphere from lead-containing vehicular fuels, even drinking vessels. At high dose it is lethal but also causes seemingly trivial symptoms such as headaches. However, in children lead can also lead to irreversible damage to the organs, the kidneys in particular, and the nervous system including the brain. Early detection to contaminated sources is important to prevent children coming to harm but exposure is not always apparent. The effects of high lead exposure amongst children can result in ‘learning disabilities’, behavioral problems, lowered intelligence, stunted growth, and hearing impairment.

Summer Miller of Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, writing in the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry, points out that data from the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) shows that 6% of all children ages one to two years and 11% of African-American (non-Hispanic) children ages one to five years have blood lead levels in the toxic range in the area a lead poisoning.

Miller suggests that exposure to harmful quantities of lead may lead to juvenile delinquency. “Very small amounts of lead are associated with toxicity,” she says. “There have been discrepancies amongst researchers in determining the levels indicating lead poisoning. Thus, it has been reported that levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter show enough lead exposure to diagnose lead poisoning.”

Other studies suggest 45 micrograms per deciliter. She adds that public education regarding the ongoing problem of lead exposure is now needed to save young people from the potentially devastating effects of this toxic metal. “Lead poisoning has a progressive effect over time and its symptoms are those experienced by most people, such as headaches and abdominal pain,” says Miller. “Because these symptoms are so common, this allows detection to go unnoticed, hence the need for education regarding sources of lead exposure.”

“Published research shows that lead exposure and criminality is linked to evidence of poorer intelligence, low communication skills, and behavioral problems, such as vandalism and bullying,” Miller adds. Other studies have found delinquent juveniles to have raised concentration of lead in their bones compared to that in “non-delinquent” juveniles.


2 thoughts on “Is lead poisoning behind some juvenile crime?”

  1. It’s sad that this press release was ever issued as it discredits the journal, the University and the young college law student who wrote the article. She is in over her head and not only doesn’t understand toxicology, she failed to check her facts. CDC data do not show 6% of all children with toxic levels of lead poisoning, nor is lead poisoning defined as levels as low as 10 mcg/dl.

    Let’s start by understanding that last year, the CDC changed the lead blood level (to 10 mcg/dl) for reportability and that public health officials now use to target children for government case management. It has not changed the levels (45 mcg/dl +) recommended for medical intervention. [] As the CDC explained, this change means more children will be labeled as having lead EXPOSURE, not that more children are necessarily toxic.

    While blood lead surveillance has greatly increased since the late-1990s, the percent of children with higher levels has dramatically dropped. The latest CDC data (2011) shows that only 0.56% of children tested had blood levels 10mcg/dl or higher and only 273 children (about 0.001% of children) had levels 45 mcg/dl or higher, needing medical interventions. Interestingly, in her home state of Louisiana, the latest figures reported only 3 cases of children with levels of 45mcg/dl or higher and only 0.25% of chlidren with levels 10mcg/dl or higher.

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