Lead Paint Exposure Tied to Violent Crime Rates

The decline in New York City's violent crime rate can be tied into the theory of a Fairfax, Va. economist, who believes lead poisoning accounts for most of the violent crime in the United States, according to an article in today's Washington Post.

Economist Rick Nevin has argued in a series of papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce exposure to lead poisoning.

Nevin has spent more than a decade researching and writing about the relationship between early childhood lead exposure and criminal behavior later in life. His theory offers a unifying new neurochemical explanation for fluctuations in the crime rate.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin told the Washington Post. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

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Although lead paint and leaded gasoline are no longer used in the United States, many children suffered poisoning in 20th Century due to the once wide-spread use of both. Lead paint can still be found in older homes and apartment buildings throughout the country. Although Nevin does not believe lead poisoning is the only factor behind crime, he says it is the biggest factor.