Lead Is Bad For Swedish Children Too

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Matt Yglesias points out today that a Swedish paper about lead poisoning in children has finally been accepted for publication, and this gives me an excuse to republish what I wrote a few years ago when it was still a working paper. Here it is.


Just as in the US, Sweden phased out leaded gasoline in the 70s and 80s, which caused lead poisoning in infants to decrease. Unlike the US, however, lead levels were already fairly low, so the Swedish team was able to measure the effect of changes not just from 30 ug/dl to 20 to 10, but from 10 to 5 to 2. What they found was that the impact of lead reduction does eventually flatten out, but it happens at very low levels. There are gains to be made by reducing blood lead levels all the way down to 2-3 ug/dl.

At the risk of some slight irresponsibility, however, I want to reproduce their chart for violent crime. Here it is:

This might mean nothing, since the error band is quite large. But if it’s right, there’s no threshold for lead poisoning and violent crime. Just the opposite, in fact. As childhood lead levels decrease, the likelihood of violent crime later in life decreases all the way down to about 6 ug/dl. Then, after flattening out, it takes a sharp downward dive starting around 2 ug/dl. In other words, getting that last little bit of lead out of the environment might pay off considerably in less violent crime 20 years from now.

Because of the large error bars, this is the kind of thing that needs confirmation. But it would be worth the effort. We already know that reducing lead levels from 30 to 20 to 10 to 5 pays off, but we don’t know very much about levels below that. It could be that anything under 5 ug/dl is OK. Alternatively, the difference between 5 ug/dl and 1 ug/dl might be considerable. Or, given the error band, the effect could be linear all the way down. We should find out.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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