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New study finds no direct link between childhood blood lead levels and crime

Dec 26, 2017

Thousands of Flint children have have their blood tested in the wake of the city's lead tainted tap water crisis (file photo)
Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A new study may ease some of the concern among Flint parents about the future of their children exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water. 

Flint children who've tested with high blood lead levels from their drinking water may experience learning problems as they age. Some scientific research, in particular a 2008 University of Cincinnati study, suggests the children may also be prone to criminal behavior later in life. 

However, new research refutes that. 

For nearly 40 years, Duke University researchers have been studying the effects of high childhood blood levels in more than 500 people in New Zealand. The children in the southern Pacific island nation were primarily exposed to high levels of lead from gasoline fumes. 

The researchers have been following the group for decades. In addition to other measurements, the researchers were interested in their rates of criminal conviction, criminal offending, recidivism and violence. 

Dr. Amber Beckley says their data show no increased level of criminal behavior among their test subjects compared with the rest of the population. 

"We don't think is going to be a crime issue," says Beckley. 

Beckley is not willing to completely throw out past research claiming there is a link between childhood lead exposure and future criminal behavior. 

"You know, all of these findings maybe aren't the end of the story," says Bekcley. "Maybe there is another association."

Beckley points to socio-economic status as one possible answer. 

The study appears in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.