DOES LEAD MAKE A CRIMINAL?

Among the many troubling effects of lead is its connection to criminal behavior.

In a 2002 study in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Herbert Needleman, MD, whose research is widely credited with helping to end the use of leaded gasoline and paint in the U.S., reported that juvenile delinquents were four times as likely to have elevated lead levels as children their age who had not landed in court.

University of Cincinnati scientists found much the same when they followed 250 children from in utero through age 24. They reported that those with high pre- and postnatal lead exposure were more likely to be arrested after turning 18.

Needleman wrote in his study that it's possible that lead poisoning could make children impulsive, leading to attention problems and academic troubles, which are each linked to delinquency. The Cincinnati researchers, writing in PLoS Medicine in 2008, noted that lead's damaging effects on intelligence may increase the chances of arrest.

Economists also have made a connection between lead and criminality, citing statistics that show violent crime rose and fell in concert with the use of lead-containing products and that decreased childhood lead exposure in the 1970s and '80s is responsible for a 56 percent decline in violent crime in the '90s.