New Research Links High Murder Rates in Cities to Lead Pipes

052516Frontpage1pixBy Robert Miranda

Editor’s Commentary

Crickets can be heard around City Hall regarding the 70,000 homes in Milwaukee that still use lead pipes contaminating the water flowing into the houses of many residents, specifically Milwaukee’s Black, low-income whites and Latino communities.

Aside from a Milwaukee Water Works notice to many of these homes (alerting residents about the hazard and informing them to flush out their water for 3 to 5 minutes before using the water), and the Mayor and his bureaucrats making a few comments about how safe the water is in the media, there is still no effort to creat a comprehensive strategic  plan to work with property owners to remove these toxic ticking lead pipe bombs.

Can the silence by our elected representatives and government bureaucrats continue? Especially, in light of the fact that new research is coming to light showing the correlation between violent behavior and murders are rising due to lead in our water leaching from lead pipes.

The brain-destroying power of lead, it appears, is not being taken seriously by the Mayor. There is no urgency coming from City Hall to remove these lead pipes.

Maybe that sense of urgency will come from the Mayor’s office now that there is new research which links American cities that still have lead water pipes have higher violent crimes and murder rates than cities without lead water pipes.

James J. Feigenbaum of Harvard and Christopher Muller of the University of California, Berkeley, report that on average, “cities that used lead water pipes had homicide rates that were twenty-four percent higher than cities that did not.”

The research is significant because it carries the credentials of two of our nations prestigious research universities. The study builds on a explosion of new research now being published after the Flint, Michigan crisis. The authors of the study link lead exposure to various criminal behaviors in the United States over the past several decades.

The Huffington Post reports that “Feigenbaum and Muller compiled historical information on pipe materials in 545 cities from 1921 to 1936, and after controlling for a variety of demographic factors, found that “cities that used lead pipes had between 14 and 36 percent higher homicide rates than cities that did not.” The study will be published in the journal Explorations in Economic History, according to the Huffington Post.

In the past decades most research focused on lead exposure from air pollution caused by leaded gasoline, paint chips and dust, but not much research was done regarding water.

But the water crisis in Flint, Michigan changed all that and in doing so has brought national spotlight to the fact that homes receiving water from lead pipes contribute significantly to higher blood lead levels in kids.

News reports published about Flint, Michigan point out that state officials insisted that high blood lead levels in kids were caused by paint chips and dust, a similar theme Milwaukee public health bureaucrats say is the main source of lead exposure in Milwaukee children.

Researchers say that because this argument is compelling and based on fact, it nevertheless detracted from public scrutiny the concerns that lead in the water is equally hazardous.

Bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. fight tooth and nail denying their citizens ingested lead water, in fact, even to this day, according to the Huffington Post, “water utility officials in Washington, D.C. refuse to admit anyone might have ingested dangerous levels of lead from the water during a lead crisis in the early 2000s, even after peer-reviewed research said they had.” It seems admitting that the water is toxic makes for bad politics.

The research by Feigenbaum and Muller uses “city-to-city variations in water chemistry”, which gave them the confirmation they needed to make the link between lead pipes and higher murder rates. The researchers point out that in cities where lead pipes are being used, water with higher acidic levels show the “homicide rates rise accordingly.”

The U.S. government banned lead water pipes in 1986, according to a 2013 report by the United States Department of the Interior, in which the department raised concerns about Chloramine being used in water and its affects on minerals that are supposed to coat pipes to prevent lead leaching into the water.

Nevertheless, it must be stressed that Feigenbaum and Muller have not conclusively proven, “once and for all, that lead causes crime — and that even if it does, it’s one cause among many”. They do point out however that anything short of removing lead pipes is unacceptable public health policy.

“Even if lead removal will not reduce crime, it will remove a dangerous toxin from the environment,” the paper says. “Other strategies to reduce crime may not have similarly positive side effects.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *