The intersection of aggregate-level lead exposure and crime

Environ Res. 2016 Jul:148:79-85. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.03.023. Epub 2016 Mar 29.


Context: 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.

Design: Longitudinal ecological study.

Setting: Saint Louis, Missouri.

Exposure measure: Blood lead levels.

Main outcome measure: Violent, Non-violent, and total crime at the census tract level.

Results: 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).

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

Keywords: Aggregate lead exposure; Non-violent crime; Total crime; Violent crime.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cities
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lead / blood*
  • Missouri


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Lead