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Environmental Health and Antisocial Behavior: Implications for Public Policy.

* Identifying the mechanisms driving juvenile delinquency is difficult.

* Two predominant theories have emerged:

-- The School Failure Hypothesis suggests that cognitive deficiencies prevent academic success, leading to a negative self-image that promotes delinquent behavior.

-- The Susceptibility Hypothesis suggests that individuals with learning disabilities have personality characteristics that make them more likely to engage in antisocial behavior.

* A large number of youth with impaired cognition and histories of antisocial behavior, regardless of the cause, have entered the criminal justice system.

* Sufficient evidence exists to hypothesize that exposure to neurotoxins may be a risk factor for antisocial behavior.

* Bone, blood, dentine, and cord blood lead concentrations have all been found to correlate significantly with dysfunctional class room behavior.

* Adverse behavioral effects also have been associated with exposure to PCBs and other chlorinated hydrocarbons.

* Unfortunately, environmental toxicology has concentrated on the effects of acute exposures associated with overtly contaminated sites.

* Little attention has been given to subtle effects arising from chronic exposure to mixtures of low-level pollutants.

* Also, establishing epidemiological links between environmental exposures and health outcomes is a constant challenge.

* Demonstrating that neurotoxins have a causal role in antisocial behavior is even more difficult.

* As a result, the strength of the association between neurotoxicity, cognition, and behavior is largely unknown.

* If neurotoxicity is a contributing factor in antisocial behavior, there may be implications for the manner in which the criminal justice system responds.

* What obligations, for example, does the system have to individuals who have been placed at risk for antisocial behavior through exposure to social burdens such as environmental contamination?

* The high economic costs associated with antisocial behavior (in the billions of dollars per year) make interventions that can reduce antisocial behavior more attractive.

* The most effective approach for the present may be to ensure that environmental contaminants are released into the environment at concentrations sufficiently low to prevent adverse physiological effects.

* This approach likely will require increased effort in a number of areas of toxicology:

-- more thorough study of mechanisms of toxicity,

-- more sensitive methods for detecting toxic effects, and

-- more scrutiny of the long-term health consequences of chronic exposure.
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Article Details
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Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
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