Local lithium levels and crime
by Justin Svec

Lithium has often been used as a psychiatric medication to treat major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. For example, WebMD suggests that “Lithium is one of the most widely used and studied medications for treating bipolar disorder. Lithium helps reduce the severity and frequency of mania. It may also help relieve or prevent bipolar depression. Studies show that lithium can significantly reduce suicide risk. Lithium also helps prevent future manic and depressive episodes. As a result, it may be prescribed for long periods of time (even between episodes) as maintenance therapy."

Lithium is found dissolved in lakes and reservoirs. This is because lithium is naturally occurring and seeps into the water when rocks break down. Lithium can be eluded from rock and soil and accumulates in ground water. The level of lithium concentration in drinking water varies greatly across counties in the United States as well as across time. In the year 1987, average lithium concentration in each county across the US ranges from 4 to 1789 micrograms/liter, while in 2002, this number ranges from 0.16 to 1340 micrograms/liter.

With this variation, if one population obtains greater amounts of lithium on a regular basis than another population, then it seems possible that the former population will have fewer mental issues over time, allowing them to better form lasting relationships, achieve better results in school and at work, etc. This could lead to fewer crimes being committed in the former population compared to the latter population.

Goal of this project: Determine whether the concentration of lithium in a county’s drinking water source negatively impacts the crime rate in that county.

A collaborator and I have already begun work on this project. We have collected county-level data on crime, its typical predictors, and the lithium concentrations in ug/L in 38,169 USGS survey sites across the United States. These sites are located in 1,846 counties across the nation. This data, though, is not exactly what we want. This is because the data we have only tells us the location of the reservoirs (survey sites) and hence which counties the reservoirs are in. But, the data we would like to have is the lithium concentrations of each county's drinking water. Since counties don't necessarily get their drinking water from nearby water sources, the data we have isn't quite the data we want.

Stage of idea: Requisition

Unmet requisite(s): Collaborator, Data (linking county with drinking water source)

Academic discipline(s): Economics of crime, health economics

Created on Aug 31, 2017

Suggested citation: Svec, Justin, 2017. "Local lithium levels and crime." ResearchIdeas.org, http://www.ResearchIdeas.org/posts/15/.

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