Poverty, education, drugs, and family structure all play roles in the crime rates in cities such as Chicago. However, studies on children poisoned with lead may indicate the greatest factor of all. Brain scans of toddlers exposed to lead, even in small amounts, were found to have significantly less gray matter in parts of the brain that control attention, emotions, and impulses. Also, the production of white matter that transmits signals between different parts of the brain was scrambled.

According to a June 7, 2015 Chicago Tribune article by Michael Hawthorne, studies show that kids with higher levels of toxic metals in their systems not only struggle in school but also commit more violent crimes. This is particularly important information in consideration of the high crime rate in low-income areas where the potential for lead exposure is significantly greater due to the number of older buildings and vehicles there, as well as the expense of removing lead paint.

The former Chief of Lead Poisoning Prevention at the Chicago Department of Public Health, Anne Evans, compared the results of lead levels to the performance on standardized tests of more than 58,000 children born in Chicago from 1994 to 1998. Those exposed to the metal had a significantly higher failure rate in reading and math.

Harvard University researcher Robert Samson conducted a two-year study on education and crime in low-income areas of Chicago. When he added data from lead testing he was shocked to find the similarity between the rate of children younger than six in 1995 with lead poisoning and the rate of aggravated assault in 2013 when those kids were 17-22 years old. Other studies are finding similar results.

We’ve known for decades that lead in paint, gasoline, and pipes is dangerous to our health. But perhaps, like me, you didn’t understand exactly what that meant. Now we know that no child should ever be exposed to such a toxin.

©2015, Mary K Doyle