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Lead exposure link to violent crime

Lead exposure link to violent crime - Featured Image

Australian children who are exposed to higher lead levels are more likely to commit violent crimes later in life, Macquarie University research has found.

The research backs up previous findings that lead exposure increases impulsiveness and crimes of aggression.

Lead author, Professor Mark Taylor, and his team took air samples from six New South Wales suburbs and looked at criminal statistics in the same areas over a period of 30 years.

They found that, after taking into account relevant socio-demographic variables, concentrations of lead in the air accounted for 29.8 per cent of the variance in assault rates 21 years after childhood exposure.

Importantly, the findings were consistent between states – in Victoria, more than 32 per cent of the variance in rates of death by assault 18 years following lead exposure, and in New South Wales the figure was 34 per cent.

In Australia, historically there have been three sources of lead exposure: in paint, petrol, and from mining and smelting emissions.

The researchers found the link between exposure and assault persisted regardless of whether the lead came from smelting or petrol.

Professor Taylor said more specific information was needed to prove that lead exposure caused aggressive behaviour and that, given the findings, lowering lead exposure would be beneficial.

“The results indicate that measures need to be taken to lessen exposure to lead in areas where environmental air levels remains high, so as to avoid any long-term neurodevelopmental consequences,” Professor Taylor said.

The study was published in Environmental Health.

Kirsty Waterford