Air Quality

Published on January 12th, 2013 | by Chelsea


Car-Centric Big Cities More Violent Because Of Gasoline Lead

January 12th, 2013 by  

Concrete jungles have been plagued with violent crime much more so than small towns, with few concrete answers as to why. In a recent Mother Jones article, Kevin Drum outlines why exposure to gasoline lead has driven violence in major cities.

Image: Late afternoon traffic via Shutterstock

What’s all the brouhaha about lead? For starters, lead is a toxic metal that can be emitted into the air and then inhaled, where it accumulates in the body over time. This accumulation can be fatal or cause serious mental and physical impairments.

Drum argues that bigger cities have a higher concentration of cars — and therefore a higher concentration of airborne lead — than smaller cities. This exposure to gasoline lead resulted in children with aggressive tendencies and a rise in violent crime.

The upside to this argument is that decreasing exposure to gasoline lead has been  followed by a drop in violent crime. And how have we achieved a decrease in gasoline lead exposure? And how can we decrease it more? By insisting that particle emissions from cars are regulated; encouraging cities to improve bikeways; and voting for legislators that listen to constituent demands for more public transit, just to name a few.

Source: Planetizen

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About the Author

is a former newspaper reporter who has spent the past few years teaching English in Poland, Finland and Japan. When she wasn't teaching or writing, Chelsea was traveling Europe and Asia, sampling spicy street food along the way.

  • Rik98

    Please get a clue. Lead has been banned in U.S. fuel for DECADES. Likely longer than you have been alive Chelsea. Journalism requires HOMEWORK to be viable. Try harder next time.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Well, someone might need a clue….

      Lead in US gasoline wasn’t fully banned until 1986. That lead would have taken a little while to be flushed from our cities.

      If you’ll read the original article you’ll see that the drops in problem behaviors started showing up in 1993.

      “Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.”

      It’s not unreasonable to assume that many of our very troubled youth grew up with high lead exposures. Now that we’ve cleared those individuals to adulthood (and prison) a generation which was not lead poisoned should not be causing the same problems.

  • RobS

    Does unleaded gasoline contain less lead or no lead?

    • Ronald Brak

      Unleaded gasoline contains no lead, which is good, as it’s nasty stuff. Many years ago Australia banned some toys from the United States because they contained too much lead. The United States has improved its standards with regards to lead a lot since then.

  • chris k

    I think it’s safe to say lead is detrimental to human health, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to conclude that it leads to more violence in cities.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There are a number of studies which link high lead blood levels with aggressive/violent behavior.

      Google this – “lead poisoning aggressive behavior”.

      Clearly we used a lot of lead in gasoline for a number of years. We also exposed children to lead via paint dust/chips and many of the older buildings in the poorer parts of town had lead paint. We also used lead in color inks for magazines.

      I don’t see a stretch.

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