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Is the Clean Air Act the #1 crimefighter in America's history?

Old 10-24-07, 10:23 AM
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Is the Clean Air Act the #1 crimefighter in America's history?



IDEA LAB
Criminal Element



By JASCHA HOFFMAN
Published: October 21, 2007


Has the Clean Air Act done more to fight crime than any other policy in American history? That is the claim of a new environmental theory of criminal behavior.

In the early 1990s, a surge in the number of teenagers threatened a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. But to the surprise of some experts, crime fell steadily instead. Many explanations have been offered in hindsight, including economic growth, the expansion of police forces, the rise of prison populations and the end of the crack epidemic. But no one knows exactly why crime declined so steeply.

The answer, according to Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, an economist at <a href="http://www.amherst.edu/">Amherst College</a>, lies in the cleanup of a toxic chemical that affected nearly everyone in the United States for most of the last century. After moving out of an old townhouse in Boston when her first child was born in 2000, Reyes started looking into the effects of lead poisoning. She learned that even low levels of lead can cause brain damage that makes children less intelligent and, in some cases, more impulsive and aggressive. She also discovered that the main source of lead in the air and water had not been paint but rather leaded gasoline — until it was phased out in the 1970s and ’80s by the Clean Air Act, which took blood levels of lead for all Americans down to a fraction of what they had been. “Putting the two together,” she says, “it seemed that this big change in people’s exposure to lead might have led to some big changes in behavior.”

Reyes found that the rise and fall of lead-exposure rates seemed to match the arc of violent crime, but with a 20-year lag — just long enough for children exposed to the highest levels of lead in 1973 to reach their most violence-prone years in the early ’90s, when crime rates hit their peak.

Such a correlation does not prove that lead had any effect on crime levels. But in an article published this month in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, Reyes uses small variations in the lead content of gasoline from state to state to strengthen her argument. If other possible sources of crime like beer consumption and unemployment had remained constant, she estimates, the switch to unleaded gas alone would have caused the rate of violent crime to fall by more than half over the 1990s.

If lead poisoning is a factor in the development of criminal behavior, then countries that didn’t switch to unleaded fuel until the 1980s, like Britain and Australia, should soon see a dip in crime as the last lead-damaged children outgrow their most violent years. According to a comparison of nine countries published this year by Rick Nevin in the journal Environmental Research, crime rates around the world are just starting to respond to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint. “It really does sound like a bad science-fiction plot,” says Nevin, a senior adviser to the National Center for Healthy Housing. “The idea that a society could have systematically poisoned its youngest children with the same neurotoxins in two different ways over the same century is almost impossible to believe.”

The magnitude of these claims has been met with a fair amount of skepticism. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, wonders how lead could have had such a strong effect on violent crime while, according to Reyes, it showed almost no effect on property crimes like theft. He also doubts that the hypothesis could explain the plunge in the U.S. murder rate from the 1930s through the 1950s. “I certainly think it’s a reasonable exercise,” Miron says. “We just have to be appropriately suspicious of how much you can actually show.”

The theory will be put to the test as children grow up in Indonesia, Venezuela and sub-Saharan Africa, where leaded gasoline has just recently been phased out. Meanwhile, the list of countries that still use lead in gas — Afghanistan, Serbia and Iraq, as well as much of North Africa and Central Asia — does not rule out a connection with violence.

No matter how suggestive the economists’ data, it takes a doctor to show that some of the people most damaged by lead are out there breaking the law. Herbert Needleman, the University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist and pediatrician whose work helped persuade the government to ban lead in the 1970s, recently studied a sample of juvenile delinquents in Pittsburgh; the group had significantly more lead in their bones than their peers. And lead may not be the only source of damage. The National Children’s Study will soon begin to track more than 100,000 children to determine the effects of exposure to common pesticides, among other chemicals.

Links:

<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/21/magazine/21wwln-idealab-t.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1193069109-tIv/I01qmqYqqX/fw3A7Iw&oref=slogin">NY Times Article</a>
<a href="http://www.amherst.edu/~jwreyes/papers/LeadCrimeBEJEAP.pdf">Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime</a> (Published Paper)

<hr>

This reminds me of a less-controversial version of Donohue and Levitt's <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=174508">paper on legalized abortion and crime</a>. An interesting hypothesis indeed.
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Old 10-24-07, 10:31 AM
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I suppose it's possible, theories are theories.

I've never been comfortable with the more abortions = lower crime argument. Is there real data to show that just because abortion was legalized that it truly increased?
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Old 10-24-07, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by The Bus
If other possible sources of crime like beer consumption


Great, another "economic" article having nothing to do with economics that I need to read.
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Old 10-24-07, 10:41 AM
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Hey it's "freakonomics"...!
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Old 10-24-07, 11:03 AM
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i tought lead makes you a retart and not a criminal?
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Old 10-24-07, 11:12 AM
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Originally Posted by al_bundy
i tought lead makes you a retart and not a criminal?
"Retart?" Now that's irony!
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Old 10-24-07, 04:22 PM
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Just when you thought all the environmental loonies were working on "proving" CAGW...

(Not meant to imply that all CAGW believers are environmental loonies. But all environmental loonies are CAGW believers.)

Last edited by movielib; 10-24-07 at 04:26 PM.
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Old 10-26-07, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by al_bundy
i tought lead makes you a retart and not a criminal?
From the article, published in The B.E. Journal of Economic Policy and Analysis:
C. Lead, Delinquency, and Crime

Lead has been associated directly (though not necessarily causally) with delinquent, criminal, and aggressive behavior. Denno (1990) finds that lead poisoning is the most significant predictor of disciplinary problems and one of the most significant predictors of delinquency, adult criminality, and the number and severity of offenses. Needleman et al. (1996) finds a significant relationship between bone lead and antisocial, delinquent, and aggressive behaviors. Dietrich et al. (2001) followed a cohort of 195 inner-city youths from birth through adolescence and find a clear linear relationship between childhood blood lead levels and the number of delinquent acts committed. In addition, Needleman et al. (2002) show that adjudicated delinquents were four times as likely to have high lead levels than non-delinquents, and several studies have shown that violent criminals exhibit higher levels of lead in their bodies than non-violent criminals or the general population. Lastly, two studies have used U.S. data to demonstrate a strong association between lead exposure and crime rates: Nevin (2000) does this with a national time series, while Masters et al. (1998) employ a cross-section of countries.
So no, apparently it doesn't just make you a retart[sic].
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Old 10-26-07, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan
From the article, published in The B.E. Journal of Economic Policy and Analysis:
So no, apparently it doesn't just make you a retart[sic].
I was thinking poor areas are where there would have been (and still may be) the most lead paint left. Poor areas have higher levels of crime. That could be the connection with the lead being incidental.

Dietrich's study which apparently followed only inner city youths may be more significant and merit further study although other factors have to be taken into account, of course.

The claim of going down with unleaded gas, however, is a different animal. I doubt the levels of lead in the gas and then vapors getting into the air were high enough to make much of a difference.

Last edited by movielib; 10-26-07 at 01:18 PM.
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Old 10-26-07, 12:49 PM
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lead paint used to be used in a lot more other places than inner cities? was there a higher incidence of crime there as well?

inner city youths are probably lower on the income scale and this probably has more to do with crime than lead paint
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Old 10-26-07, 04:59 PM
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Wow, it's great to see people are completely ignoring Sociology.

Correlation does not equal causation is only the beginning of what is wrong with this paper.

But it was pretty much PROVEN through scientific experimentation, mind you, that criminality is socially constructed.
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Old 10-26-07, 06:00 PM
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Originally Posted by movielib
The claim of going down with unleaded gas, however, is a different animal. I doubt the levels of lead in the gas and then vapors getting into the air were high enough to make much of a difference.
Sorry to disagree. Airborne lead was one of the original "criteria pollutants." With banning of leaded gas, it has virtually fallen of the table, with further declines from the 1993 data mentioned here.
http://www.scorecard.org/env-release....tcl#7439-92-1
Lead gasoline additives, non-ferrous smelters, and battery plants are the most significant contributors to Pb emissions into the atmosphere. In 1993 transportation sources contributed 33% of the annual emissions, down substantially from 81% in 1985. Total Pb emissions from all sources dropped from 20,100 tons in 1985 to 4,900 tons in 1993. The decrease in Pb emissions from cars and trucks shifting to lead-free gasoline accounts for essentially all of this decline.

NAAQS: 1.5 ug/m3 (quarterly average)
http://epa.gov/air/oaqps/greenbk/o3co.html
LEAD

Exposure to lead (Pb) can occur through multiple pathways, including inhalation of air and ingestion of Pb in food, water, soil or dust. Excessive Pb exposure can cause seizures, mental retardation and/or behavioral disorders. A recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported a 78% decrease in blood lead levels from 12.8 to 2.8 ug/dL between 1976 and 1980 and from 1988 to 1991. This dramatic decline can be attributed to the reduction of leaded gasoline and to the removal of lead from soldered cans. Although this study shows great progress, infants and young children are especially susceptible to low doses of Pb, and this age group still shows the highest levels. Low doses of Pb can lead to central nervous system damage. Recent studies have also shown that Pb may be a factor in high blood pressure and in subsequent heart disease in middle-aged males.

Lead gasoline additives, non-ferrous smelters, and battery plants are the most significant contributors to atmospheric Pb emissions. In 1993 transportation sources contributed 33% of the annual emissions, down substantially from 81% in 1985. Total Pb emissions from all sources dropped from 20,100 tons in 1985 to 4,900 tons in 1993. The decrease in Pb emissions from highway vehicles accounts for essentially all of this decline. The reasons for the decrease are noted below.

Two air pollution control programs implemented by EPA before promulgation of the Pb standard in October 1978 have resulted in lower ambient Pb levels. First, regulations issued in the early 1970's required gradual reduction of the Pb content of all gasoline over a period of many years. The Pb content of the leaded gasoline pool was reduced from an average of 12.0 gram/gallon, to 0.5 gram/gallon on July 1, 1985, and still further to 0.1 gram/gallon on January 1, 1986. Second, as part of the EPA's overall automotive emission control program, unleaded gasoline was introduced in 1975 for automobiles equipped with catalytic control devices. These devices reduce emissions of CO, VOCs and NOx. In 1993, unleaded gasoline sales accounted for 99% of the total gasoline market. In contrast, the unleaded share of the gasoline market in 1984 was approximately 60%. These programs have essentially eliminated violations of the Pb standard in urban areas except those areas with Pb point sources.

Programs are also in place to control Pb emissions from stationary point sources. Lead emissions from stationary sources have been substantially reduced by control programs oriented toward attainment of the PM-10 and Pb ambient standards. However, significant and ambient problems still remain around some Pb point sources, which are now the focus of new monitoring initiatives. Pb emissions in 1993 from industrial sources, e.g., primary and secondary Pb smelters, dropped by about 91% from levels reported in 1970. Emissions of Pb from solid waste disposal are down about 76% since 1970. In 1993, emissions from solid waste disposal, industrial processes and transportation were: 500, 2,300 and 1,600 short tons, respectively. The overall effect of the control programs for these three categories has been a major reduction in the amount of Pb in the ambient air. Additional reduction in Pb are anticipated as a result of the Agency's Multimedia Lead Strategy issued in February 1991. The goal of the Lead Strategy is to reduce Pb exposures to the fullest extent practicable.
Edit: This doesn't mean I necessarily agree with the thesis. The same reduction in crime has also been successfully correlated with availability of abortion (wanted children receive better parenting) and tougher (mandatory) sentencing standards to get criminals iff the street longer. Correlation != causation.

Last edited by OldDude; 10-26-07 at 06:05 PM.
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Old 10-26-07, 06:12 PM
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Allow me to quote (once again) from the article.
Lead has been associated directly (<b>though not necessarily causally</b>) with delinquent, criminal, and aggressive behavior.
So, the author isn't saying that lead poisoning gives us criminals. She's saying there's a relationship there somewhere.
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Old 10-26-07, 09:07 PM
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Originally Posted by OldDude
Sorry to disagree. Airborne lead was one of the original "criteria pollutants." With banning of leaded gas, it has virtually fallen of the table, with further declines from the 1993 data mentioned here.
http://www.scorecard.org/env-release....tcl#7439-92-1

http://epa.gov/air/oaqps/greenbk/o3co.html

Edit: This doesn't mean I necessarily agree with the thesis. The same reduction in crime has also been successfully correlated with availability of abortion (wanted children receive better parenting) and tougher (mandatory) sentencing standards to get criminals iff the street longer. Correlation != causation.
Thanks. I can admit when I'm wrong. And your expertise is why you are the official technical consultant for The One and Only Global Warming Thread.
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Old 10-26-07, 09:33 PM
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Originally Posted by wendersfan
Allow me to quote (once again) from the article.
So, the author isn't saying that lead poisoning gives us criminals. She's saying there's a relationship there somewhere.
Hm, didn't see that. Thanks.

I'm not disagreeing on the grounds that lead is dangerous, but rather that it could be a contributing cause to crime. That just brings up the whole "nature vs. nurture" argument again. And while nature can't be tested, nurture has.
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Old 10-26-07, 09:42 PM
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To answer the OPs question:

No.
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