Published on: March 1, 1998
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Industrial pollutants contain lead that inhibits the brain's ability to exert self-control.

On a very ordinary July day in 1984, James Oliver Huberty walked through the door of a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, California, and into the pages of infamy. "Society had its chance. I'm going hunting. Hunting humans," the unemployed security guard announced as he methodically unpacked a 12-ga. pump shotgun, 9mm pistol and 9mm semiautomatic carbine. He killed 21 people before being shot to death by a police sharpshooter.

A radical new theory that helps to explain what made Huberty snap could trigger an equally radical change in the way we deal with violence. If it proves correct, it could lead to changes in law enforcement that take a bigger bite out of violent crime than putting a cop on every corner ever would.

After the massacre, the medical examiner's office ordered an exhaustive series of tests on Huberty's remains. What they found was startling. "He had the highest cadmium level we had ever seen in a human being," recalls William J. Walsh, president of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center of Naperville, Illinois, and an authority on the link between metal poisoning and behavior. "I remember getting a call from the assistant medical examiner who was working on the case. 'I have one question for you,' he said. 'If Huberty had this much cadmium in his body, why wasn't he dead?'"

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