Monday, July 15, 2013

Link Between Lead and Murder Rates Found

Lead Paint Peeling in Home
Lead Paint Peeling
The murder rate in the United States is at an all time low. Many people often attribute this to aggressive urban crime policies, decrease in drug usage, economic fluctuations, or the legalization of abortion. However, many of these theories do not correlate with the rise and fall of crime rates in America in both urban and rural areas. Rick Nevin, an economic consultant for the National Center of Healthy Housing and author of "Why Is the Murder Rate Lower in New York City," found that there was a strong correlation between murder rates and the use of lead in gasoline and in lead-based paint.

Experts often view crime as an epidemic. Professor Karl Smith, Professor of Public Economics and Government at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, stated, "I believe – for epidemics economic, biological or social is this: If it spreads along lines of communication its entropic information. If it travels along major transportation routes its microbial. If it spreads out like a fan, its an arthropod. If its everywhere, all at once, its a molecule." So, what is this molecule that Nevin speculated was the cause for decreases in crime? Lead.

People often think of urban cities as prime locations for robbery, murder, and rape, yet in the early 1990's in New York City, even before Mayor Rudy Giuliani's aggressive policies against crime, violent crime rates began to drop. And they kept dropping all around the nation. Since the 1990s, crime rates in New York City have dropped 75%. Washington DC's crime rates dropped 58%; Dallas 70%; Los Angeles 78%. But why? These cities did not practice the same strategic efforts as Mayor Giuliani, and despite economic fluctuations, crime continued to decline around the nation.

Nevin pointed out that exposure to lead in early childhood years may have caused violent and abnormal behavior in adults. After WWII, automobile sales boomed, and drivers would use leaded gasoline. The EPA did not ban lead in paint in homes until 1978, and during the 1970's, gasoline companies began replacing leaded gasoline with unleaded. Experts found that crime rates in urban areas were higher, and Nevin speculated that this was due to high automobile emissions in an extremely small, dense setting. People in cities were more likely to be exposed to the harmful gases emitted by cars using leaded gasoline. Children who were exposed to this harmful gas had high blood lead levels and experienced a number of health effects later on in life, such as lower IQ, antisocial behavior, and violent tendencies. Nevin hypothesized that the effects of lead had a 20 year lag, so young children exposed to lead would show this behavior in their early adult life.

So when lead was banned in the 1970s, cities and towns around the nation saw declines in crime in the 1990s. Nevin found that the curves for the rise and fall of both crime and leaded gasoline and paint perfectly correlated if given the 20 year lag.

Nevin found that this trend was not unique to the United States. He surveyed nations around the world and saw the same pattern in Australia, Canada, Germany, France, and several others. Tulane University researcher Howard Mielke even studied this trend at a local neighborhood level and found that neighborhoods with high concentrations of lead also had high crime rates.

Environmental regulations are necessary, not just to reduce global temperatures or to create more cost-effective buildings. They have a real impact, and they influence the society we live in, creating healthier lives for our children and safer places to live.

The EPA requires certification to work with or remove lead paint. Register for a course with GreenEDU and become certified!

Green Education Services is one of the leading training providers for the EPA's Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, which targets pre-1978 residential homes and requires companies and their workers to be certified to work safely with lead-based paint that may be present in the home. You can follow this link to all of our EPA Lead Renovators courses around the country, and do your part to combat this epidemic.