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Pollution Causes Teenage Crime

Low-level lead poisoning may be one cause of juvenile crime. A study of 194 young offenders tried in a Pennsylvania court found that the concentrations of lead in their bones was much higher than in non-delinquent teenagers. Researchers don't know if the lead was the cause of the crimes, or if it's just a symptom of the poor living conditions that led the person to become an offender.

Lead is found in oil-based paint that chips off the walls in the older buildings where a lot of these kids live (new or renovated homes have lead-free latex paint on interiors). Another major source of lead pollution is auto emissions, which especially affect children living in big cities. We've long known that high levels of lead are toxic, especially for children, but the effects of low lead levels are unknown. Research in the early 1990s suggested that low-level lead exposure causes a drop in a child?s IQ level. Many criminals have been found to have lower-than-normal IQ's, making it harder for them to see the consequences of their actions.

Dr. Herbert Needleman used x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to determine the concentration of lead in the young offenders? leg bones and compared this with high school students the same age. Convicted youths had 11 parts per million, compared with 1.5 parts per million in the other teens, meaning the juvenile delinquents had over 7 times as much lead in their bodies. Needleman says, "For years parents have been telling their pediatricians that their children's behavior changed after they were lead poisoned, and the children became irritable, overactive and aggressive?These results should be a call to action for legislators to protect our children by requiring landlords to not simply disclose known instances of lead paint in their properties, but to remove it."

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