February 18, 2005
A U.S. researcher is arguing that the lead left in paint, water, soil and other sources may be having a greater impact on people's behavior than realized. Elevated lead levels are known to affect children's intelligence, but it might also be leading to antisocial and criminal behavior, according to Dr. Herbert Needleman.
The professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said the U.S. government needs to do more to reduce lead levels in the environment. According to Needleman, environmental lead entering a developing brain can disturb neural mechanisms responsible for regulation of impulse.
Citing several studies associating crime with high levels of lead in the bodies of those accused or in the environments they came from, one of the studies showed the average bone lead levels of 190 juvenile delinquents were higher than those of adolescents not charged with crimes.
In Needleman's study, his team used a technique called X-ray fluorescence and found very low levels of lead in the bones of children. The study suggested between 18 percent and 38 percent of delinquent crimes in the Pittsburgh area could be attributed to lead toxicity in the adolescents.
Needleman thinks that a strategy to reduce crime would be to eliminate lead from the environment of children. He says lead exposure at doses below what is brought to medical attention is associated with increased aggression, disturbed attention and delinquency, which should make parents think more about their children's possible lead exposure.
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