New York City is internationally known for its festive and extravagant New Year’s Eve celebration. An estimated 1 million people will be in New York at the time of the ball drop, while 1 billion people around the world will watch on television. While New York City has not always been the safest, it has prided itself recently on its ability to lower violent crime in the past few decades. By 2010, crime rates in NYC had dropped 75 percent from their peak in the early 1990’s. Even though New York has done a great deal of intervention to lower crime rates, a similar pattern has been occurring in cities all over the country. Washington D.C, Dallas, Los Angeles, and other major cities have all had violent crime plummet in the past few decades.
One major theory that supports this radical drop in crime is the decrease in childhood lead exposure. Exposure to lead, especially at a young age, can cause an array of impairments such as learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, antisocial behavior, aggression, and violence. Lead used to be present in items such as household paints, toys, jewelry and gasoline before it was deemed too dangerous for use. The Center for Disease Control set an acceptable blood lead level of 40 µg/dL in 1970, which is an astronomically high level today. As of 2014, the CDC has pronounced that there is no safe level of lead in a child’s blood, as recent studies have shown that a blood lead level as small as 2 µg/dL can cause permanent damage.
The theory that lead has an impact on violent crime sounds ridiculous when first stated. The current research showing the correlation however, becomes increasingly convincing. Lead is directly absorbed, distributed and excreted, causing it to hit the bloodstream directly. It is then distributed into the soft tissue (kidney, bone marrow, liver, brain) and mineralized tissue (bones and teeth) where it can stay for years. A consultant working for the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development noticed an interesting relationship between lead emission and violent crime. He determined that if you add a delay of 23 years, lead removal from automobiles explains 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in the United States. This shows that children who ingested lead were more likely to become violent adults decades later. This data is extremely convincing, suggesting that as lead regulations became more strict, a larger number of children grew to be functioning members of society.
While lead is prohibited from gasoline, children are still ingesting lead from older homes, schools, and even the soil around them. Making sure your children’s blood lead levels are screened regularly could prevent damaging and permanent outcomes from lead exposure.