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Why cleaning up lead contamination is so important to all of us - it can improve health and reduce crime.

Yesterday, at Weston School, Dougald Lamont and the Manitoba Liberals outlined substantial measures to reduce lead contamination and the effects of lead contamination.  As has become clear, reducing lead contamination is exraordinarily important to improving the health of children and adults and to reducing crime.    There is an astonishing correlation between lead exposure and preschool blood lead levels with crime and violent crime 19 to 23 years later when these children become young adults.  The correlation holds up across 9 different countries (US, UK, Canada, France, Australia, Finland, Italy, West Germany and New Zealand (Nevin 2007). Indeed the pattern of gasoline lead use in the US from 1941-1975 explained 90% of the variation in crime rates from 1964 to 1998.   In a related study Reyes (2007) used an analysis of the timing of states’ compliance with the Clean Air Act in the US to provide evidence that reductions in childhood lead exposure in the 1970s and 1980s accounted for more than half of the violent crime decline in the US in the 1990s.  We can argue about the precise contribution of lead exposure to violent crime, but there is little doubt that it is significant.   For many years it has not been adequately explained why Winnipeg has one of the highest violent crime rates in Canada.   Lead contamination  from industrial activity and from lead in water pipes could be a factor.  We need to act now to address the problem, to clean up the contamination, to improve the health of children and adults in Manitoba and to reduce violent crime and property crime. 

It is very important that we include testing of children, as Dougald Lamont discussed in his press conference yesterday.  For children who have high levels of lead, studies have shown that interventions including lead remediation, nutritional assessment, medical evaluation, developmental surveillance and public assistance referrals can reverse the negative outcomes.  A major research study showed that these interventions can affect long-term educational and behavioural outcomes.  Indeed, based on this research, the authors provide evidence that the interventions can have "far-reaching decreases in anti-social behavioiur (school suspensions, school crimes, unexcused absences and criminal activity) and to a lesser extent increases in educational performance."  (Billings and Schnepel 2018). 

Manitoba Liberals are the only party to date who have announced that they will act quickly to address high lead levels found in Winnipeg and in our children.   It is important to children and adults exposed to lead and to their families.   It is important to all of us.  We care about other Manitobans.   We also want a decrease in property crime and violent crime in Winnipeg. 

Nevin R (2007) : Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure.  Environmental Research 104:315-336.
 Reyes JW: Environmental Policy as Social Policy?  The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime.  The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy.   7:1-41, 2007.
Billings SB, Schnepel KT: Life after Lead: Effects of Early Inteventions for Children Exposed to Lead.  American Economic Journal:  Applied Economics 10:315-344, 2018.

It must be noted there are many other studies showing an association between blood lead levels and crime, particularly violent crime (including homicides) and property crime.  Several of these are listed below.

Feigenbaum JJ, Muller C: Lead Exposure and Violent Crime in the Early Twentieth Century.
Stretsky PB, Lynch MJ: The Relationship between Lead Exposure and Homicide. 579-582, 2001.
Wright JP et al: Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood.  PLOS Medicine (5(5):e101 https”   
Aizer A, Currie J:  Lead and Juvenile Delinquency: New Evidence from Linked Birth, School and Juvenile Detention Records. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper No. 23392, 2017
Beller T: Wearing the Lead Glasses: Lead Contamination in New Orleans and Beyond.  Places Journal May 2019.


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