Baltimore’s Ongoing Lead Poisoning Crisis & the Link to Violent Crime

Every time there’s a major violent crime by a Black youth from a disinvested, redlined community in Baltimore, one of the first questions I have is — were they lead poisoned? And if they were poisoned by toxic lead, I want to know: what is the blood lead level of their poisoning?

As you can see from the State of Maryland’s data in the table below, Baltimore had 2,254 children poisoned between 5–9.9 mg/dL of lead and 347 children poisoned at 10+ mg/dL lead in their blood. Those kids in 2009 are now 9–14 years old. We never treated many of those. Many others were never tested.

Here’s data from 2003 depicted below. Baltimore had 17,076 children poisoned under 10 mg/dL lead in their blood. We had over 1,000 poisoned over 10 mg/dL. Over 100 were poisoned over 20 mg/dL. Those kids ages 0–5 are now ages 16–21. Our youth and young adults today. Again, many were never tested!

Given that chelation is usually recommended for children who were poisoned ABOVE 40 mg/dL blood lead level, the question is: what treatments and medical care did the children poisoned UNDER 40 mg/dL receive?

Especially children like Freddie Gray (36 mg/dL) or Korryn Gaines (12 or 22 mg/dL).

We didn’t give many of these children poisoned by toxic lead medical treatments, nutritional therapy, or behavioral therapy. We failed them. We allowed them to be poisoned and their brains permanently damaged. And then they grew up.

Then we have the nerve to ask: why are these kids out of control? Why are they committing violent crimes?

WE ALLOWED A DEVASTATINGLY TOXIC HEAVY METAL TO PERMANENTLY DAMAGE THEIR BRAINS.

That’s what happened. Then, we didn’t do anything to address the damage we allowed.

And that’s just lead poisoning! Now add other brain damaging factors such as air pollution, poverty, and trauma (due to exposure to violence). These factors all damage cognitive capacity, intelligence, decision making, and emotional regulation. The science is clear.

We KNOW where lead poisoning hotspots are thanks to maps generated by Reuters reporters and Carol Ott. But we as a city have no plan to #BmoreLEADfree and declare a state of emergency.

As recent news reports have shown, we still have lead poisoned water in our schools. This was discovered in Baltimore’s public schools years ago in the early 2000s. Today technology is being deployed to try and remove lead from fountain water so that they can be used in schools. Toxic lead is pervasive. Lead paint is still on walls in our homes, while other forms of lead contaminates our soil and pollutes our air.

Toxic lead is a major factor in the elevated levels of violence and crime in Baltimore City. Research is increasingly conclusive regarding the lead-crime link. Neuropsychologists have found damning evidence linking lead poisoning to brain damage. There is also evidence linking lead poisoning to racial segregation or what one researcher calls the “ecology of toxic inequality.”

In other words, lead poisoning of Black babies in Baltimore — and cities like Chicago and Flint — is a manifestation of their status as Category 5 hypersegregated cities (or the most intensely segregated metropolitan areas). We cannot effectively address street level, interpersonal violence and crime without confronting the structural, ecological crimes of toxic inequality that have been allowed to persist in hypersegregated and redlined Black neighborhoods. Due to our lack of strong and swift action, lead poison continues to wreck, damage, and poison Black babies, undermine Black minds, and destroy Black Lives.