A letter from Tamara Rubin, Executive Director, Lead Safe America Foundation
A few people (amongst the readers of our currently 50,000+ e-mail list) expressed outrage at me when I was moved to send out an e-mail the day after the Newtown shooting and mention the connection between lead-exposure and violence. Their first take was to accuse me of being self-serving and using the tragedy to advance some personal agenda.
They didn’t get it, and so many still don’t.
Consider the following:
• Established fact (ask any neuropsychologist): Early childhood lead exposure causes erratic, unpredictable, impulsive, irrational and violent behavior.
• 1 in 3 American kids today has had an (unsafe) level of lead in their blood at some point (and the vast majority of these kids have never even been tested).
We now have a mountain of research detailing the profoundly damaging impact of early childhood lead exposure on frontal lobe development. While it is well known that lead poisoning reduces overall I.Q., proportional to exposure, frontal lobe impairment specifically diminishes a person’s ability to reason, act rationally, appreciate/weigh consequences and control aggression and violent impulses (especially in boys).
Consequently, the failure to consider this disturbing, increasingly common aberrant neurological condition as a backdrop against which all of these shootings occur—as a significant contextual component seems myopic.
With reason – everyone is focusing on the guns (granted, that’s a huge problem, and a central factor in this uniquely American tragedy [a personal one too – given my paternal grandmother fatally shot herself with my grandfather’s handgun, when I was visiting her when I was 15 years old.])
However very few are focusing on these children and young adults (mostly young men) who are shooting and killing other children.
Why are all these young men doing this? What are we doing to help them?… to stop this from happening before it gets this far? Certainly not enough.
It’s so horribly, unspeakably sad – and so profoundly wasteful and unjust! I cannot stop weeping over the death of 14-year-old Emilio – even though I did not know him. He lived right here in Multnomah County – where I live with my family. He was a teenage boy in school, just doing his own thing and being a good kid – like my older boys. My own boys are 6, 9, 12 and 17. It hurts. It is so close to home. Literally.
This week’s senseless tragedy happened just 15 miles from my home.
The Clackamas Town Center mall – the scene of December 11 2012’s killings (just days before Newtown’s December 14th shooting) – is just 5 miles in another direction from our quiet picturesque Portland neighborhood. On December 11, 2012 I was headed to the Clackakmas Mall with my son A.J. to buy pants. When we noticed all the firetrucks and ambulances and decided to turn around, not yet knowing what we had just avoided being part of.
My heart aches for all the children we have lost and continue to lose in this way.
As a nation, as a society, as humans we NEED to start looking at all of the identifiable contributing factors in this continuing wave of violent behavior and we need to address these causes. As part of this inquiry we must seriously consider the well-understood mechanism of frontal lobe damage from childhood exposure to the potent neurotoxin LEAD as a significant factor that is being overlooked. The lead industry has poisoned our planet and its inhabitants for more than a century, yet they keep operating… mining, smelting, processing, fabricating, producing … products and materials with LEAD – one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man. Period. No Argument. This is an unquestionable fact. The lead industry did not just disappear after the 1978 ban on lead-based house paint, and the subsequent phase out of lead in regular gasoline in 1996 in the U.S.; they just sought and found new markets for their deadly “magic ingredient.” And by recent accounts, as a modern industry their manufacturing, output and profits are all actually at an all-time high.*
The environmental economic impact study done by Dr. Leonardo Trasande (published in 2011) estimated that the total cost of all environmental illness to the United States was $76.6 billion annually. Of this very conservative $76.6 billion annual cost, $50.9 billion was lead. Two thirds of the (financial) cost to society of the impact of total environmental toxicity on our children was caused by opening Pandora’s box and creating contamination of our environment by lead mined from it’s naturally occurring location very deep within the earth. All of the other poisons lumped together did not even equal half of the impact of lead.
This $50.9 billion annually does not include the cost of violent behavior later in life, like these shootings. Multiple studies involving prisoner populations have shown an uncanny correlation between violent crime and previous (early childhood) lead exposure—irrespective of socioeconomic factors.
Granted – not every child that has been poisoned by lead is going to become a violent shooter, however in those with perhaps a genetic predisposition to these tendencies lead exposure CAN be a trigger, creating brain damage and frontal lobe impairments that result in turning what would otherwise just have been “thoughts” into “action” by virtue of lead-toxicity’s tendency to distort judgement and suppress impulse control. In many cases these young men are likely acting on unhealthy impulses (instead of suppressing them as the rest of us do) as result of their aggregate exposure to environmental toxicity.
Lead exposure (and it’s tragic consequences) is NOT a “thing of the past”—this is still a HUGE problem.
We NEED to allocate resources to clean up the mess made by the lead industry, to prevent the precipitation of this violence. It’s not a panacea – but it’s a place to start.
As Dr. Mark Pokras (from Tufts University) says in my film, “We need legislation that says, ‘Thou shall not use lead in any products.'”
A Mother of Lead Poisoned Children
Links regarding lead and violent behavior:
“The global mining industry is forecast to witness excellent growth over the next five years. The industry is estimated to reach US $1,783 billion by 2017, with a CAGR of 7.4% from 2012 to 2017. The highly fragmented industry comprises the mining of iron ore, coal, precious metals, diamonds, bauxite, manganese, and base metals. The companies in the industry have adopted new technologies to increase productivity.”