Being exposed to lead early in life is linked to a higher risk of criminal behavior in adulthood, a review suggests.
The metal is toxic to the body and has been linked to numerous health problems, including kidney disease, infertility and delays in mental development.
Common sources include pre-1970s household paintwork, contaminated soil, vintage toys, and some traditional medicines and cosmetics — but tap water is also a major source.
A review of 17 studies has now concluded that exposure to lead in utero or early life increases the risk of being arrested in adulthood, particularly for drug-related offenses.
The scientists haven’t theorized why people exposed to lead are more likely to commit crimes later in life.
But this may be related to lead exposure, which causes lower IQ and possibly leads to communication problems, making antisocial behavior more likely.
Dr. Maria Jose Talayero Schettino, an environmental scientist who led the study, added: ‘Children do not absorb or metabolize lead in the same way as adults and are much more susceptible to the negative effects of lead exposure due to hyperpermeable blood. brain barrier and rapidly developing organ systems.
‘This review shows an association between exposure to lead and the later development of delinquent, antisocial and criminal behaviour.
“Combined with the available biological evidence, this review shows that there is an increased risk of criminal behavior in adulthood when a person is exposed to lead in utero or childhood.”
Limitations of the review included that not every study involved found an association between lead exposure and a higher risk of committing crime.
Another was that it combined studies conducted in the slums of Brazil, the poorest regions of Ohio and New Zealand’s South Island.
This makes it difficult to determine whether the criminal behavior was due to lead exposure or other factors.
But the team from George Washington University in D.C. said their assessment overall suggested that a person exposed to lead in utero or early childhood has a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior as an adult.
Write in the journal Plos global public healththey said: ‘Policies to prevent lead exposure are of paramount importance as our research shows that there is an increased risk of criminal behavior in adulthood when a person is exposed to lead in utero or during childhood.
“Preventing exposure to lead is crucial to protecting public health and promoting a safer society for all.”
Common sources include pre-1970s household paintwork, contaminated soil, vintage toys, and some traditional medicines and cosmetics.
Children exposed to lead early in life are more likely to become criminals, study suggests (stock image)
Tap water is also a potential resource, with more than nine million lead pipes still in use across the country – Florida in particular – despite being banned in the 1980s.
Service pipes — which connect homes to the water main — are still made of lead, estimates suggest, posing a risk because the lead can come off and contaminate the water.
There are also fears of wider contamination in the US as lead dumped by factories and mines seeps into the local water supply, putting residents at risk.
Once absorbed, the lead travels in the bloodstream and accumulates in soft tissue – such as the kidneys, liver and lungs – which can lead to problems for these organs over time.
The substance can also cross the blood-brain barrier and damage neurons, leading to learning disabilities, IQ and developmental delays.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no safe blood level of lead for children, advising parents to keep their children away from the substance.
It is often difficult to see warning signs of lead exposure, although over time it can lead to lower IQ, impaired attention and poor performance in school.