[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 02:53 GMT
Lead 'turning children to crime'
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News health reporter, in Washington DC

Man in handcuffs
Exposure to lead at low doses can cause aggression, it is claimed
Lead pollution may be turning children into criminals, US experts fear.

Exposure even at low doses can cause aggression and behavioural problems in children, the scientist who first linked lead to lower IQ believes.

Dr Herbert Needleman, of Pittsburgh University, found youths arrested for delinquency had higher levels of lead in their bones than others.

Other psychosocial factors are likely to be important, but cutting lead could cut crime, he told a US conference.

It affects the prefrontal lobes of the brain which are important in the regulation of behaviour
Dr Herbert Needleman
Routinely checking lead levels in every child when they are aged one and two would also help, he told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"It's not expensive and you could pick up the ones who might develop problems early on before they appear," he said.

'Extra support'

Those children found to have high lead levels could be given extra support at school, for example, as well as removing them from the source of the exposure, he said.

Lead is known to be toxic to the brain and governments around the world have taken steps to reduce environmental lead with measures such as unleaded petrol and by removing lead from paint.

People are looking for personal responsibility
Larry Silverman, environmental attorney

But Dr Needleman claims growing evidence suggests even very low-level exposure is still doing harm.

"Lead is a poison," Dr Needleman said. "It affects the prefrontal lobes of the brain, which are important in the regulation of behaviour.

"We know that criminals have disturbances in the prefrontal lobes too, so the chain of evidence is pretty strong."

His research looking at lead levels and delinquency, published in the journal Neurotoxicology and Terotology in 2003, found teenagers arrested for crimes had readings four times higher than teenagers who did not have a criminal record.

However, Larry Silverman, an environmental attorney in the US, told the conference: "Even if you say it's down to lead... you are not doing them a favour. People are looking for personal responsibility."

Lead link to youth crime
07 Jan 03 |  Health


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific