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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Childhood lead exposure linked to adult crime

Leadtoxicx In what may be the strongest link yet between lead exposure and crime rates, researchers at the University of Cincinnati on Tuesday released new evidence, spanning more than 20 years, that draws a direct relationship between the amount of lead in a child's blood and the likelihood he or she will commit crimes as an adult.

Research has shown before that lead has harmful effects on judgment, cognitive function and the ability to regulate behavior. But until now the best research focused on juveniles, not adults.

Now, researchers have collected data from as early as 1979 when pregnant women and their healthy babies had their blood drawn regularly at four Cincinnati medical clinics. By the time the children were 7, researchers had a complete portrait of lead levels.

Nearly two decades later, the researchers tracked down 250 of the subjects, ages 19-24. Controlling for a host of factors, including parental IQ, education, income and drug use, the team found that the more lead in a child's blood from birth through age 7, the more likely he or she was to be arrested as an adult. The tie between high lead levels and violent crime was particularly strong.

"We need to be thinking about lead as a drug and a fairly strong one," says Kim Dietrich, a professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the principal investigator for the study in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine. "These kids have been exposed to this drug, chronically, since before birth. [Mark Godsey]

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