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Il Messaggero, Italy

Violence and Crime? Leaded
Gasoline Is the Culprit


By Anna Guaita

Translated By Agatha Aissa-Dallongeville

20 January 2013

Edited by Gillian Palmer


Italy - Il Messaggero - Original Article (Italian)

The tales of the massacres that have been plunging the U.S. into mourning in the last months could make us believe that violent crime keeps growing. The truth lies elsewhere, and we could be very surprised. Despite the increase in attacks in the U.S. — e.g., in the movie theater in Aurora or in the Newtown school (and the last one that happened right about today in New Mexico) — violent crimes have been gradually decreasing and now represent half of what they were in the peak of the early ‘90s. There is a new theory that argues that this phenomenon is due to the drastic decrease in lead-induced pollution, along with the disappearance of premium petrol — a process that had been initiated in the ‘70s. The other aspect of this theory is that the growing rate of violent crime from the ‘70s onward was caused by the rise of generations of children poisoned by these fumes. Lead can cause damage to the brain, lower the IQ and inhibit the capacity to control violent impulses.

This theory comes from a long article written by Kevin Drum, published in Mother Jones magazine. Drum analyzed a series of sociological and historical environmental studies that focus on this cause-and-effect phenomenon between lead-induced pollution and violence. Some researchers made comparisons with the statistics of other countries, Italy included; they established that the same correlation existed everywhere.

That lead is dangerous is not open for discussion. Actually, there is a school of thought that thinks that the reason the Roman Empire collapsed, with its ruling class and emperors affected by dementia and lunacy, was because of the excessive absorption of lead through wine, water and utensils.

But if this theory ends up being true, if the overall violent homicide rate went down from 757,000 in 1992 to 386,000 in 2011 as a result of the awareness that led the U.S. (and a good part of the world: premium petrol is now forbidden in 174 countries) to gradually diminish lead poisoning in the air, we should therefore take a step back and reevaluate the conclusions that have been published so far about the origin of the ‘70s-‘90s crime surge and of its gradual reduction.

Poverty, social injustice, lack of instruments for the family and the schools to help young people in distress: These are the explanations generally given by liberals. Explosion of the nuclear family, gradual loss of traditional values and laxity are the explanations given by conservatives. The environmentalists showing the data answer: brain poisoning by lead.

Personally, I find those data really impressive and alarming. I think about the generations of children who grew in the megalopoles suffocated by exhaust fumes. And, I also think about the new method of finding petrol, fracking, that should eventually allow the U.S. to be independent from the Middle East. It is a conquest that is considered to be a big possible success of the future. And, I think about the warnings delivered by environmentalists worried about aquifer poisoning. And, I’m wondering: Is a new catastrophe whose impact we can’t imagine about to happen?



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