Environmental Intolerances and Toxins-Metal Intolerances and Toxins:  Research Article
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Environmental Health and Antisocial Behavior

CITATION:  Preston, B. L., Warren, R. C., & Wooten, S. M.  (2001).  Environmental health and antisocial behavior: implications for public policy.  Journal of Environmental Health, 63 (9), 9-19. 

ABSTRACT:  This article discusses the possibility of environmental pollutants exerting a neurotoxic effect on the Central Nervous System and therefore on psychological functioning, particularly in regard to the development of  antisocial personality disorder.  Because of the disorder’s multifactorial etiology, making primary causal factors difficult to filter out, the authors of this article reviewed evidence that demonstrated an adverse effect of specific environmental toxins on psychological outcomes that overlapped with those related to the disorder. 

For instance,  early exposure to lead, mercury, and certain pesticides has been associated with lower I.Q. scores, impaired memory and cognitive functioning, as well as lower academic performance in children.   At the same time, current data also point to a link between cognitive deficiencies, including learning disabilities, and the occurrence of antisocial behaviors.  Moreover, results from the longitudinal study by Denno (1990) found lead toxicity to be the most significant predictor of criminal behavior in adolescent and adult African-American males.  Based on the circumstantial evidence they found, the authors concluded that the likelihood of the existence of a link between early chronic exposure to neurotoxins and antisocial behavior is high enough to suggest its presence. 

 Furthermore, certain characteristics of the CNS, including regulation of the membrane potential, the need for protein synthesis and intracellular transport, preservation of the myelin sheathing, and the mechanisms involved with neurotransmitters, leave it especially vulnerable to the impact of some of the environmental pollutants.  For instance, organophosphate pesticides have been found to interfere with the release, binding, and reuptake of neurotransmitters, thereby disrupting normal neural signal transduction.  Although minimum dosages and duration of exposure to neurotoxins – especially if occurring before birth and in early childhood –  necessary for damage is mostly unknown, current evidence suggest that the resulting disruption of these neural mechanisms can lead to adverse effects not only cognitive functioning, but psychosocial development as well (e.g. exposure to lead). 

 Consequently, assessment of causal factors in clients presenting with antisocial personality disorder and cognitive impairment, especially in children (including. conduct disorder), has to include consideration of possible exposure to neurotoxins.  Red flags include clients’ having lived or are residing at the time of the interview in locations that are known or likely to expose them to environmental pollutants.  Clinicians have to pay special attention to clients from low socioeconomic backgrounds and from certain foreign countries.  If possible clients should undergo medical tests that determine the presence and level of neurotoxins in their bodies. 

 Treatment, therefore, has to include educating clients or their parents on the dangers of environmental neurotoxins and discussing possible means of protection from continued exposure.  In addition, clinicians and researchers in the field of psychology and medicine have a moral obligation for community outreach in the form of educating the public and participating in events that further a prevention approach to the impact of neurotoxins on the environment in general, and people specifically. 


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