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Violent crime in East PoS connected to lead exposure

Thursday, April 11 2013

THE EDITOR: For more than two decades, violent crime in East Port-of-Spain and its environs has been increasing rapidly and today, we can safely say it has reached epidemic proportions. Successive governments have failed in their bid to prevent the spiralling continuous effect of criminality in these areas.

Millions of dollars are being spent year after year on this project, yet there is no positive result in the making. Did anyone ever thought about the possibility that the residents of East Port-of-Spain could have been exposed to lead particles?

The most likely areas that might have contributed to this phenomenon are the traffic congestion in the city on a daily basis up until April 2004, when leaded gasoline was banned, and the indiscriminate dumping and burning of all sorts of garbage at the city’s landfill, off the Beetham Highway, which can be characterised by its thick plumes of smoke that covered the entire city.

Exposure to levels of lead commonly encountered in urban environments constitutes a significant hazard for children, especially those less than six years old. Children with high levels of lead accumulated in their baby teeth experience lower intelligence quotients (IQs), short-term memory loss, reading and spelling underachievement, poor perception integration, and disruptive classroom behaviour.

In the United States, children who lived on or close to high-traffic streets had higher lead levels in their blood than children who resided in low-traffic areas. Lead in gasoline was found to be responsible.

Lead is emitted into the atmosphere as a component of aerosol particles. The small particles may be transported over hundreds or thousands of kilometres by high winds. High wind speeds have the potential for long-range transport.

Generations of children in East Port-of-Spain have been exposed to the effects of lead pollution from motor vehicles’ exhaust and smoke from the Beetham landfill. Lead exposure can be the most important factor influencing violent crime in East Port-of-Spain, and this effect on crime may be just the tip of the iceberg. Increase in impulsivity, aggression, can affect other behaviours such as substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, poor academic performance, poor labour market performance and single mothers. The young men (20s) in East Port-of-Spain would have been the young children in the 1990s. This is to give you an idea of what I am referring to.

Finally, it is every child’s birthright to be able to breathe clean air and have as full and healthy a lifespan as possible. The Government will have to invest large sums of money to fight lead pollution. But, when the health and intellectual faculties of a nation’s children are at stake, it is money that must be spent and must be spent now. As our most valuable asset, we owe it to our children to do everything possible to clean up our fast deteriorating environment of lead and crime.



VALENTINE SMITH

Lecturer

Behavioural Sciences Department, UWI

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