Aggregate-level lead exposure, gun violence, homicide, and rape

Brian B. Boutwell, Erik J. Nelson, Zhengmin Qian, Michael G. Vaughn, John P. Wright, Kevin M. Beaver, J. C. Barnes, Melissa Petkovsek, Roger Lewis, Mario Schootman, Richard Rosenfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Context: An increasing body of research has linked the geographic distribution of lead with various indicators of criminal and antisocial behavior. Objective: The current study, using data from an ongoing project related to lead exposure in St. Louis City, MO, analyzed the association between aggregate blood lead levels and specific indicators violent crime within the city. Design: Ecological study. Setting: St. Louis, Missouri. Exposure measure: Blood lead levels. Main outcome measure: Official reports of violent crimes were categorized as 1) crimes involving a firearm (yes/no), 2) assault crimes (with or without a firearm), 3) robbery crimes (with or without a firearm), 4) homicides and 5) rape. Results: With the exception of rape, aggregate blood-lead levels were statistically significant predictors of violent crime at the census tract level. The risk ratios for each of the outcome measures were as follows: firearm crimes 1.03 (1.03–1.04), assault crimes 1.03 (1.02–1.03), robbery crimes 1.03 (1.02–1.04), homicide 1.03 (1.01, 1.04), and rape 1.01 (0.99–1.03). Conclusions: Extending prior research in St. Louis, results suggest that aggregated lead exposure at the census tract level predicted crime outcomes, even after accounting for important sociological variables. Moving forward, a more developed understanding of aggregate level crime may necessitate a shift toward studying the synergy between sociological and biological risk factors such as lead exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0187953
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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