Lead and Violence


I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

A researcher says lead in the environment could be a major cause of violence by young people.

Doctor Herbert Needleman is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania. He presented his findings at the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Doctor Needleman says the presence of lead in the brain changes the neurons that control actions. And he says that can cause a person to act in antisocial and criminal ways.

Lead is a metal that is especially dangerous to babies and young children. They can get it into their bodies by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or pieces of lead paint. Children with high levels of lead can suffer brain and nervous system damage, learning disabilities, slow growth, headaches and hearing loss.

In the nineteen seventies, Doctor Needleman found lower scores on intelligence tests even in children who did not have such signs of lead poisoning. After that, lead was removed from gasoline and paint in the United States. Yet many homes still have old lead paint.

Lead was also used in older water pipes. In fact, officials just announced stronger testing and reporting requirements as of next year for lead in American drinking water.

The newest research by Doctor Needleman shows that even very small amounts of lead in bones can affect brain development. A simple blood test can measure lead. But an X-ray process is needed to measure levels in bone.

In two thousand two, such tests were done on one hundred ninety young people who were in jail. The findings showed that their average levels were higher than normal.

And, in nineteen ninety-six, three hundred children were studied. Test scores showed higher levels of aggression and learning problems in those with increased levels of lead. Yet these levels were still considered safe by the government.

Doctor Needleman and other experts say all this research shows that one way to reduce crime is to keep young children away from lead.

That will not be easy. Just last week, the government warned Americans about charm jewelry with high levels of lead. These metal charms were made in China and sold in some arts and crafts stores in the United States. An American company is now trying to recall almost three million of them.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Gwen Outen.