Claim: Lead paint ban responsible for lower murder rate

Lead paint was only a problem for kids who ate paint chips.

An enviro writes at LiveScience:

But why is the murder rate falling?

There is a strong case to be a made that much of the decline is related to removing lead from the environment. As Nevin explains, there were two major spikes in the murder rate in the last century — first around the 1930s and later from the 1960s to 1970s. Shown on a timeline graph, those spikes appear as two big bumps, like a Bactrian camel. Significantly, the graph for lead exposure in our environment looks almost exactly the same, with a 21-year off-set. That is, peak lead exposure resulted in a spike in the murder rate 21 years later.

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14 thoughts on “Claim: Lead paint ban responsible for lower murder rate”

  1. Despite the inherent stupidity of most criminals, there is a certain cost/benefits analysis that goes through the minds of most would-be criminals before the act. If you narrow the field to true crimes of passion and psychopaths there really isn’t much deviation through the years. The changes occur mainly in premeditated murder rates. I would assume the premeditated murder rate is rather closely related to the socially perceived likelyhood of consequences. So, how do crime rates correlate to the positive or negative overall portrayal of law enforcement in the media? To what degree are shows like CSI and Bones responsible for would be murderers deciding not to go through with it? What are the consequences of newspapers consistently reporting that the police are incompetent and can’t catch murderers?

    Of course heroine and most other narcotics were banned in 1924. They were quickly replaced with designer variants that were later banned in 1930. So that year a large number of recreational addicts were driven underground. The mid 60’s and 70’s were when Professor Leary was telling a generation of youth that then-legal hallucinagens would make them mental and spritual superbeings.

    Seems like maybe more than one factor could influence the variability of crime rates. Could we see the lead ban timeline vs crime rates of other similarly enlightened countries?

  2. In New York City, the homicide rate went from 2,500 a year in the 1970’s to less than 500 a year now. Such a humungous decline probably has many causes. Allowing women to abort pregnancies from aggressive males appeals to me. Certainly incarceration had something to do with it, as well as improvements in policing. I wish somebody would write a book about it. The reduction in crime in New York City from the 1970’s was palpable relief.

    As to lead, aggressive youngsters are more likely to chew on a window sill. Mental deficiency and aggression lead explain ead contamination and not the other way around in my opinion.

  3. Maybe the homicide rate has declined because we built more prisons and held criminals longer. Seems like a cause and effect to me.

  4. Some of those mushy headed ivory tower enviro-whacko tree huggers at Columbia University (but we love them anyway) discovered that, contrary to the claims about lead paint and gasoline, the real culprit (at least in NYC) was incinerators. (Keep in mind that in the Bad Old Days there was lead in just about everything, including newspapers… which were then burned in both apartment building and large municipal incinerators).

  5. I’d like to see if there is a link between lead and mercury removal from paint and the increase in incidents of mold taking over homes.

  6. Dunno. But eating dirt seems no better than eating paint.

    I have always been skeptical of anyone getting lead from the auto fuel additive.

  7. I thought I read years ago that no one had ever actually observed children eating the woodwork, but that elevated blood-lead levels in urban children were more directly linked to lead contamination of playground soil by fall-out from automobile exhausts before tetraethyl lead was banned in 1975. Anybody au fait with this?

  8. Read “100 Things You Should Know About DDT”., available from our host in his blog, or enter “DDT” in the Search Window at left.

  9. Just a random thought, but I have long wondered if the ban on lead paint is what has allowed the increase in bed bugs.

  10. The rate in the thirties does seem more likely to be due to gang activity and /or mobsters and the sixties is where illegal drug consumption soared. That really does seem a bit more likely than a 21 year gap after lead paint use is reduced. (And why 21 years? Do you have to eat paint for 21 years? Do only the children who were one or two at the time of the paint spike turn homicidal?)

  11. “Lead paint was only a problem for kids who ate paint chips.”

    And only the kids of parents who let them eat the paint chips ate them.

  12. The rate increase in the thirties was probably due to gang activity and the depression. I thought a study “proved” the homicide rate decline now was because of Roe v. Wade and the increase of abortions. And now I hear that Omega 3’s are bad for your prostate, and don’t prevent coronary artery disease. I’m getting confused.

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