For quite awhile, scientists have noticed a disturbing trend between several disorders, such as autism and ADHD, with pollution along roads and highways. An article in Mother Jones by Kevin Drum looked into this factor with another factor studied by criminologists, the rate of crime in the United States. What was discovered was at the same time remarkable, and disturbing.
Something known for awhile is that people with these disorders tend to engage in criminal behavior, not due to some desire to break laws as an inability to control impulse. They will paint graffiti, take joyrides in cars, all sorts of minor offenses, due to this impulse control issue. And with our crime system set up the way it is, an effective revolving door prison system, once they get into the system, they tend to stay there. With it estimated that over half of the US prison population has one form or another of these disorders, we can safely call them a significant factor to the crime problems in the United States.
Theories for why crime rates go up, or down, are wide and varied. Some have cited population, others strict police efforts. Rudy Guliani came into office to get tough on crime, but instead crime had been dropping for years before he took office, along a steady line. It was not until someone cross-referenced these trends, a man named Rick Nevin, that the pattern began to make sense. In 2000 he published “How Lead Exposure Relates to Temporal Changes in IQ, Violent Crime, and Unwed Pregnancy,” which compared these trends against another trend, the use of tetraethyl lead additives in vehicle fuel. What he found was that as leaded gasoline was added or removed from motor fuel, if he added 23 years, the average age of a first offender, the crime rates matched it perfectly. This then gave a reason why these trends were appearing more in urbanized areas, or areas alongside the highway system, because those areas were also the areas with the most leaded gasoline.
Another trend which was happening at the same time was the rise of medication for treating children with these disorders. Several studies have found that properly medicated children have a reduced incidence of criminal activity later in life.
Leaded gasoline, however, is not gone entirely. It is still available for use in airplanes at this time. And yet, despite the scientific evidence as to the dangers of lead, not just for children, but for society in general, there are those who would seek to return lead to vehicle engines nationwide.
Michele Bachmann is famous for not giving up on ideas and introduces the same bills over and over again. One of the bills she co-sponsored in the last legislative session was nicknamed the “Gasoline Freedom of Choice Act” and would have repealed the Environmental Protection Agencies ability to regulate motor fuel emissions. She has even fought to eliminate the EPA along with several other Republicans.
The science is in. The next time a Republican, or anyone, comes out against the EPA, against clean air or water, they cannot also claim to be tough on crime. Instead, whenever they talk about relaxing regulations, what they are truly saying is that they want an increase of crime rates. The link between environmental regulations and crime is now established. It is time to put those who wish to return to the era of DDT and leaded gasoline on the spot as being not only soft on crime, but wanting to see crime expand. Those who demand an unregulated market, to let businesses do whatever they please, and that the free market will resolve all conflicts ignore that issues, such as this, can become apparent years, if not decades later, after which the damage is already done and too severe to solve through market forces. If we let the GOP gut environmental protections, it will be our children who pay the price.
Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.
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