Early exposure to lead and juvenile delinquency

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2001 Nov-Dec;23(6):511-8. doi: 10.1016/s0892-0362(01)00184-2.


Cross-sectional studies have reported an association between lead (Pb) levels in bone and delinquent behavior in later childhood and adolescence. This is the first prospective longitudinal study of Pb and child development to address this question with comprehensive assessments of toxicant exposure and other developmental cofactors. A prospective longitudinal birth cohort of 195 urban, inner-city adolescents recruited between 1979 and 1985 was examined. Relationships between prenatal and postnatal exposure to Pb (serial blood Pb determinations) and antisocial and delinquent behaviors (self- and parental reports) were examined. Prenatal exposure to Pb was significantly associated with a covariate-adjusted increase in the frequency of parent-reported delinquent and antisocial behaviors, while prenatal and postnatal exposure to Pb was significantly associated with a covariate-adjusted increase in frequency of self-reported delinquent and antisocial behaviors, including marijuana use. Use of marijuana itself by Cincinnati Lead Study (CLS) teens was strongly associated with all measures of delinquent and antisocial behavior. This prospective longitudinal study confirmed earlier clinical observations and recent retrospective studies that have linked Pb exposure with antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. Both prenatal and postnatal exposure to Pb were associated with reported antisocial acts and may play a measurable role in the epigenesis of behavioral problems independent of the other social and biomedical cofactors assessed in this study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency*
  • Lead Poisoning, Nervous System, Childhood / complications*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • United States