Friday, February 18, 2005

Get The Lead Out

This article is about one of my pet peeves:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lead left in paint, water, soil and elsewhere may not only be affecting children's intelligence but may cause a significant proportion of violent crime, a U.S. researcher argued Friday.

He said the U.S. government needs to do more to lower lead levels in the environment and parents need to think more about where their children may be getting exposed to lead.

"When environmental lead finds its way into the developing brain, it disturbs neural mechanisms responsible for regulation of impulse. That can lead to antisocial and criminal behavior," said Dr. Herbert Needleman, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Needleman's team, using a technique called X-ray fluorescence, found very low levels of lead in the bones of children.

Needleman cited several studies that associate crime with high levels of lead either in the bodies of those accused or in the environments they came from, including one that showed the average bone lead levels of 190 juvenile delinquents were higher than those of adolescents not charged with crimes.

His study suggested that between 18 percent and 38 percent of delinquent crimes in the Pittsburgh area could be attributed to lead toxicity in the adolescents.


Taking lead out of most gasoline has contributed to a sharp reduction in the level of lead in the blood of Americans over the past 30 years.

But lead is still found in paint, some types of fuel for older vehicles, older water pipes and in the soil.
I pointed out in August of 2003 in the midst of a discussion of genetics and intelligence, that removing lead from the environment could be about the best public works project imaginable:
One thing we can do immediately, however, is solve the lead paint problem. Lead exposure creates a significant risk of mental retardation; that's part of why the Reagan Administration speeded up the removal of lead from gasoline. There was a study from Australia that clearly demonstrated the risk.

Poor people, especially east of the Rockies, are more likely to live in houses with lead paint in them. Even something as low-tech and low-cost as having the government pay to repaint existing lead-paint homes every couple of years would be a worthwhile effort. It's not as effective as sanding down to bare walls while guys in hazmat suits vacuum up every paint particle, but we could certainly afford to repaint every lead paint house every couple of years--and it would put an enormous number of unskilled and unintelligent workers (likely, the kids who grew up in homes like those) to work--and give them at least some job skills.
It is still a good idea--a long-term investment in reducing violence and retardation in inner cities, and a short-term investment in giving some basic job skills to a lot of teenagers and young adults who are probably unemployed right now.

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