The intersection of aggregate-level lead exposure and crime

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Childhood lead exposure has been associated with criminal behavior later in life. The current study aimed to analyze the association between elevated blood lead levels (n=59,645) and crime occurrence (n=90,433) across census tracts within St. Louis, Missouri.


Longitudinal ecological study.


Saint Louis, Missouri.

Exposure measure:

Blood lead levels.

Main outcome measure:

Violent, Non-violent, and total crime at the census tract level.


Spatial statistical models were used to account for the spatial autocorrelation of the data. Greater lead exposure at the census-tract level was associated with increased violent, non-violent, and total crime. In addition, we examined whether non-additive effects existed in the data by testing for an interaction between lead exposure and concentrated disadvantage. Some evidence of a negative interaction emerged, however, it failed to reach traditional levels of statistical significance (supplementary models, however, revealed a similar negative interaction that was significant).


More precise measurements of lead exposure in the aggregate, produced additional evidence that lead is a potent predictor of criminal outcomes.

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