Children exposed to lead are more likely to show aggressive behavior in later life, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Macquarie University suggest that children in Australia who manifest higher lead levels are more likely to commit violent crimes in adulthood. The current study back up previous research pointing out that lead exposure is linked to criminal behaviors.

In the study published in the journal Environmental Health, the researchers analyzed air lead concentrations in samples from six New South Wales suburbs including Earlwood, Boolaroo, Lane Cove, Port Kembla, Rozelle and Rydalmere, where data was available for at least 30 years.

They also looked at crime data to determine if exposure during childhood was associated to assault rates about 15 to 24 years later.

What They Found

The researchers found that environmental lead exposure in early life was the strongest predictor of assault rates in adulthood. For every additional microgram of lead in the air, rates of assault increased by 163 percent per 100,000 persons after 21 years.

After considering socio-demographic factors, air lead concentrations accounted for about 29.8 percent of the variance in assault rates.

In the most populous Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales, total lead petrol emissions accounted for about 32.6 percent and 34.6 percent, respectively, of the variance in death by assault rates 18 years later.

Implications For Public Health

"The strong positive relationship between childhood lead exposure and subsequent rates of aggressive crime has important implications for public health globally," the researchers said.

"Measures need to be taken to ameliorate exposure to lead and other environmental contaminants with known neurodevelopmental consequences," they added.

The study suggests that air pollution may be considered in explaining early adult criminality. This sheds light on the need for further research on the relationship of neurotoxic metals and behavior of exposed people in the future. The results add to the existing knowledge of lead exposure effects to the body.

The good thing is, lead exposure is preventable and with joint forces among government agencies, environmental organizations and health care providers, measures to prevent lead exposure among children can be implemented. 

Photo: Mindy Danys | Flickr 

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