The relationship between lead exposure and homicide

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001 May;155(5):579-82. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.155.5.579.


Context: Previous studies have suggested that excessive lead exposure is related to aggressive and violent behavior.

Objective: To evaluate the association between estimated air lead concentrations and homicide rates.

Design: Cross-sectional ecological study.

Setting: All counties in the contiguous 48 states of the United States. EXPOSURE MEASURE: Estimated air lead concentrations and blood lead levels.

Main outcome measure: The homicide rate in each county.

Results: Negative binomial regression was used to examine the relationship between air lead concentrations and the incidence of homicide across counties in the United States (N = 3111). After adjusting for sociologic confounding factors and 9 measures of air pollution, the only indictor of air pollution found to be associated with homicide rates was air lead concentration. Across all counties, estimated air lead concentrations ranged from 0 to 0.17 microg/m(3). The adjusted results suggest that the difference between the highest and lowest level of estimated air lead is associated with a homicide incidence rate ratio of 4.12 (95% confidence interval, 1.02-16.61).

Conclusion: The results of this study support recent findings that there is an association between lead exposure and violent behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Lead / adverse effects*
  • Regression Analysis
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants
  • Lead