The relationship between atmospheric lead emissions and aggressive crime: an ecological study

Mark Patrick Taylor*, Miriam K. Forbes, Brian Opeskin, Nick Parr, Bruce P. Lanphear

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
95 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Many populations have been exposed to environmental lead from paint, petrol, and mining and smelting operations. Lead is toxic to humans and there is emerging evidence linking childhood exposure with later life antisocial behaviors, including delinquency and crime. This study tested the hypothesis that childhood lead exposure in select Australian populations is related to subsequent aggressive criminal behaviors. Methods: We conducted regression analyses at suburb, state and national levels using multiple analytic methods and data sources. At the suburb-level, we examined assault rates as a function of air lead concentrations 15-24 years earlier, reflecting the ubiquitous age-related peak in criminal activity. Mixed model analyses were conducted with and without socio-demographic covariates. The incidence of fraud was compared for discriminant validity. State and national analyses were conducted for convergent validity, utilizing deaths by assault as a function of petrol lead emissions. Results: Suburb-level mixed model analyses showed air lead concentrations accounted for 29.8 % of the variance in assault rates 21 years later, after adjusting for socio-demographic covariates. State level analyses produced comparable results. Lead petrol emissions in the two most populous states accounted for 34.6 and 32.6 % of the variance in death by assault rates 18 years later. Conclusions: The strong positive relationship between childhood lead exposure and subsequent rates of aggressive crime has important implications for public health globally. Measures need to be taken to ameliorate exposure to lead and other environmental contaminants with known neurodevelopmental consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

Erratum can be found in Environmental Health Volume 2016(15) article 123,


  • aggressive crime
  • assault
  • childhood
  • lead exposure
  • death


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