Pollution, Crime, and Education

Kevin Drum highlights one of the most important U.S. public health initiatives: lead removal. When I was growing up, I remember that there were lead prevention and lead removal (such as lead-based house paints) commercials non-stop. That campaign seems to have worked in an unexpected area–crime prevention:

Don’t forget lead! Lead lead lead lead. When is the connection between reduced lead levels and reduced crime levels finally going to penetrate the minds of American journalists? I know it’s not sexy and I know everyone wants to ignore it because you can’t tell heroic stories about lead, but it’s almost certainly the single biggest contributor to crime reductions nationwide.

Plus it’s good news: the fact that reduced lead levels have played a big role in this means that a lot of the decline in crime is permanent.

But it’s not just crime where we’ve seen a noticeable effect. Pollution, including lead pollution, also affects educational outcomes. In fact, a recent study found that the effect of building schools in polluted areas was half that of absenteeism and teacher quality (each, not combined).

Lead (and other pollutants): It’s not what’s for dinner. And that’s a very good thing all the way around.

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