Exposure to lead as a child might turn people into criminals, according to a new study.
Researchers found that kids with higher levels of the toxic metal were more likely to resort to crime as adults.
The team from George Washington University said they found the correlation both to children exposed in the womb as well as during their childhood.
The most common way of lead being ingested is from lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings.
The paint was banned in the U.S. for residential use in 1978 and in the UK in 1992, but often lies underneath newer coats and enters the air when sanded and can also contaminate the soil.
Writing in the journal PLOS Global Public Health, scientists evaluated 17 previous studies to reach their conclusion.
It is known that lead exposure can cause cardiac issues, kidney damage, immune system dysfunction, reproductive problems and impaired neurodevelopment function in children.
Previous research has also uncovered statistical associations between lead exposure and criminal behavior both for individuals and populations, but the findings of individual-level studies have been inconsistent.
Several studies found links between early childhood exposure to lead and later arrests, including drug-related arrests. Some studies were more statistically robust than others.
Their review suggests that an individual exposed to lead in the womb or in early childhood may have a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior as an adult.
But they said there is a need for more individual-level data to strengthen the connection.
Dr. Maria Jose Talayero Schettino, who led the study, said: “Children do not absorb or metabolize lead in the same way as adults and are far more susceptible to the negative impacts of lead exposure due to a hyper-permeable blood-brain barrier and
rapidly developing organ systems.
“This review demonstrates an association between exposure to lead and the later development of delinquent, antisocial, and criminal behavior.
“In conjunction with the available biological evidence, this review demonstrates that an excess risk for criminal behavior in adulthood exists when an individual is exposed to lead in utero or within childhood.”
She added: “Policy action to prevent lead exposure is of utmost importance as our research shows an excess risk for criminal behavior in adulthood exists when an individual is exposed to lead in utero or during childhood.
“Preventing lead exposure is crucial to safeguard public health and promote a safer society for all.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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