LEAD EXPOSURE: Toxin Might Yield Lower IQs, More Crime
Two new studies on the effects of lead exposure suggest that the toxin may affect normal brain growth and contribute to patterns of violent crime, the Baltimore Sun reports. Published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a study conducted by the Baltimore-based Kennedy Krieger Institute found that exposing nursing mother rats to low levels of lead in drinking water produced brain abnormalities in their offspring. Some experts indicate that the research could have implications for human brain development. Previous research has shown that even minimal lead exposure may lead to a lower IQ and "a whole range of possible behavioral dysfunctions," including loss of self-control, shortened attention span and learning disorders. The second study, performed by ICF Consulting, a private firm working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, compared the amount of lead released into the environment with birth rates, teen pregnancy rates and violent crime rates over the last century. The results indicated that violent crime rates rose and fell in association with lead exposure rates. ICF researcher Rick Nevin said, "[I]t's reasonable to theorize that a reduction in lead exposure would improve IQ and thereby bring reductions in [crime and teen pregnancy]." HUD commissioned the ICF study in anticipation of stiffer regulations requiring the removal of lead paint in federally funded and subsidized housing. Slated to take effect in September, the lead removal program carries an estimated $253 million price tag for the first year alone. ICF predicted, however, that the new rules would save as much as $1.14 billion nationwide by reducing IQ deficits among children and "improving their ability to find and keep good-paying jobs" as adults (Haner, 5/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.