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Monday, 13 February 2017

UK prisons - the Lead effect

The UK finally ended sales of leaded petrol in 2000. From 2018 we should start to see the benefit of this in terms of a substantial reduction in the need for prison places. London's sparrows, sadly, are unlikely to recover.

I suspect readers are divided amongst those who know exactly what the para above is above and those frowning in puzzlement. Well, Lead in petrol and crime rates are very closely correlated, and as nations banned tetraethyl Lead as a petrol additive from the 1970s onwards they began to notice, with a lag of about 19 years, substantial reductions in many crimes as blood lead levels dropped in young people at peak offending age. The science behind this is very robust - each nation's drop in crime follows very closely from the drop in leaded petrol. And not only crime but teenage pregnancies, ADD, and other problems.

There's a good quality paper HERE from Mother Jones with good links to many of the research papers. 

Sparrows? Well, they have disappeared from large cities as air pollution from leaded petrol has decreased. No one knows why. Populations in smaller cities and market towns are fine - places where traffic concentrations and low speeds were not a problem. 

Prisons are having a crisis at the moment due primarily to overcrowding and understaffing. The government, rightly, are holding back from building yet more prisons. In a few years, unless we discover even more widespread Muslim gang child sexual abuse, demand for prison places will fall. The crisis will solve itself. 

I once had an officious safety official demand that I take steps to remove Lead-contaminated dust from a building conversion in London down to a level of 25ppm (25mg/kg). I was happy to refuse and tell him to get lost. The background Lead level in the soil outside, and for miles around, was in excess of 350ppm. Two thousand years of Lead pipes, roofs, windows, industry, crafts, glass, potteries, paint and half a century of leaded petrol have gifted our big cities with Lead levels in the soil that are off-the-scale - but not a major health issue. You really need either to eat Lead or to breathe it in from vehicle exhausts or burning processes to be affected. It's very insoluble and does not penetrate the skin at all easily.  

Funny though that all our proactive scientists who are so good at telling us what's bad for us actually managed to miss Lead completely.


Anonymous said...

Will be stopping the importation of criminals then?

Anonymous said...

If the sparrows have disappeared it's because their predators have gained numbers.

Anonymous said...

Is it certain that lead in the atmosphere was responsible for this extracurricular activity of our urban youth?

Could it not be that the simultaneous introduction of carcinogenic benzine into the same atmosphere, a substance far more pervasive than lead, which is heavy and falls to the ground almost immediately has had a soporific effect? So much so that the sparrows have almost died out in London.

Mind you all of my household water is supplied through a lead pipe, and I am not at all mad.


Thud said...

An interesting post but I'm not going to take much notice of something posted in mother jones.

Dick the Prick said...

I remember reading an analysis on abortion rates in the US and corresponding crime reduction 18 years later. I guess lead is also a factor.

Also, it's been widely accepted that diesel engines emit significantly more harmful toxins than petrol engines but for the sake of a 15% reduction in CO2, it was held reasonable than untimely deaths were a price worth paying. Ho hum.

AndrewZ said...

One possible explanation for what's happening with the sparrows is that they might be more tolerant of the fumes from leaded petrol than many of their rivals and predators. Therefore, in urban areas they were able to take a larger percentage of the available food and nesting sites due to the relative lack of competition, and fewer of them were killed by predators. As a result, their numbers remained unusually high while the fumes kept their rivals away, and then fell once that situation changed. In suburban and rural areas, the lower levels of traffic meant that the pollution level was never high enough to have the same effect, so the switch to unleaded fuel didn't make any difference. But suburban and rural areas also have more green spaces that allow them to support a greater number of birds overall, so they still had a large number of sparrows.

Span Ows said...

Correlation is not causation.UK crimes rates have already been falling and at a time when the population is growing rapidly. Mind you there is a load of correlation!

But some countries still use unleaded or are only just phasing it out: Afghanistan, Burma, North Korea, Algeria,Iraq and Yemen...

...oh shit, it's true!

RAC said...

It is interesting to speculate about the knock on effects our actions do have. However in this case the cause was a butterfly executing a barrel roll somewhere over Patagonia in the late 60's.

Anonymous said...

The rise in feminism may be something to do with it.
Men are becoming milksops. But not in Detroit or Chicago it seems.

malpas said...

The outbreak of willing extreme violence in WW1 and WW2 is caused by?

Anonymous said...

Starlings also - I've noticed that we no longer have crowds of those opportunists hanging around.

G. Tingey said...

Actually the scientists did NOT "miss Lead completely".
But certain very rich & powerful corporate interests were determined to resist any changes.
As usual.

Anonymous said...

"In a few years, unless we discover even more widespread Muslim gang child sexual abuse, demand for prison places will fall. "

Really? So lead is the only factor in criminality? Nonsense! The prison population is only maintained at its current level through measures such as early release and DTTO (are these still going?) If prisoners actually served the sentences they were given there would be a huge problem.

Secondly as has been pointed out, we are importing criminals at a huge rate, THAT is the current problem