LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Volume 13 Number 3, May 2013, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editorial Team: Elizabeth O’Brien, Zac Gethin-Damon, Hitesh Lohani and Shristi Lohani

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Lead Poisoning as a Criminal Defense – an annotated bibliography

By Samantha Dupuch, Legal Intern, and Robert Taylor, Researcher, The LEAD Group Inc.

  • The Criminal Mind - Advances in genetics and neuroscience are revolutionizing our understanding of violent behavior as well as ideas about how to prevent and punish crime, by Adrin Raine April 26, 2013, The Saturday Essay, Wall Street Journal (WSL) 7:28 p.m. ET

Criminals can be identified based on their physical characteristics. Numerous studies have shown the link between genes and crime and aggression. As for environmental factors, lead is considered as one that affects aggression and violence. Other factors include smoking and drinking by the mother before birth, complications during birth and poor nutrition early in life. Increasing scientific understanding of violence behaviour would be a step forwards in preventing crime, for example more accurate risk assessment for reoffending by neurocriminology.

Research Paper by student: Discussion on the use of lead poisoning as a criminal defense in the United States.

Abstract: This essay reports the results of the 'Biosocial Study,' one of this country's largest longitudinal' studies of biological, sociological, and environmental predictors of crime. This essay then considers whether it is viable to establish a lead poisoning criminal defense in light of the Biosocial Study's finding of a significant relationship between lead poisoning and three variables indicating behavioral problems at different ages: adult crime, juvenile crime, and disciplinary problems in school. It is suggested that it is philosophically inconsistent to provide for criminal defenses based upon what appear to be 'internal' factors, such as brain tumors, but then discount defenses based on what appear to be 'external' factors, such as lead poisoning or other types of environmental factors, given the fragile assumptions of causation that this 'internal-external' distinction is based on.

Articles which have been or might one day be used to justify considering Lead Poisoning as a Criminal Defense

The study aims to demonstrate the relationship between lead exposure trends in American children and fluctuations in the IQ score distributions over the years, and the evolution of relationships between trends in lead exposure, in IQ distribution and trends in crime rate and the rate of unwed pregnancies.


This study shows a very strong association between preschool blood lead and subsequent crime rate trends over several decades in the USA, Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Finland, Italy, West Germany, and New Zealand. The relationship is characterized by best-fit lags (highest R2 and t-value for blood lead) consistent with neurobehavioral damage in the first year of life and the peak age of offending for index crime, burglary, and violent crime. The impact of blood lead is also evident in age-specific arrest and incarceration trends. Regression analysis of average 1985-1994 murder rates across USA cities suggests that murder could be especially associated with more severe cases of childhood lead poisoning.


Childhood lead exposure can lead to psychological traits that are strongly associated with aggressive and criminal behavior. In the late 1970s in the United States, lead was removed from gasoline under the Clean Air Act. I use the state-specific reductions in lead exposure that resulted from this removal to identify the effect of childhood lead exposure on crime rates. The elasticity of violent crime with respect to childhood lead exposure is estimated to be 0.8, and this result is robust to numerous sensitivity tests. Mixed evidence supports an effect of lead exposure on murder rates, and little evidence indicates an effect of lead on property crime. Overall, I find that the reduction in childhood lead exposure in the late 1970s and early 1980s was responsible for significant declines in violent crime in the 1990s and may cause further declines in the future. Moreover, the social value of the reductions in violent crime far exceeds the cost of the removal of lead from gasoline.

Childhood lead exposure is a purported risk factor for antisocial behavior, but prior studies either relied on indirect measures of exposure or did not follow participants into adulthood to examine the relationship between lead exposure and criminal activity in young adults. The objective of this study was to determine if prenatal and childhood blood lead concentrations are associated with arrests for criminal offenses.

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