Lead Paint Poisoning in Children
Lead poisoning has been known for centuries. Scientific studies of the harmful effects of lead exposure date to the 1700s. Childhood poisoning from lead–based paints was first noted in 1897 in Australia, where children ate paint chips from porch railings. This prompted the City of Brisbane to pass specific legislation designed to prevent poisoning from lead–based paint.
Health Effects of Lead Exposure
Scientists originally believed that the childhood illness caused by ingesting lead–based paint was acute, with no long–term effects. However, by the 1940s, the medical literature revealed a link between lead exposure and lingering behavior disorders and mental retardation. Later, better designed studies established the current medical consensus that lead causes serious illness including:
- chronic neuropsychologic deficits;
- mental retardation; and
- kidney, blood and peripheral nervous system disorders.
There is no acceptable limit or safe threshold of lead exposure for children. Most retained lead is stored in the bones. At high levels lead can cause encephalopathy and even death. Lead poisoning affects almost all organ systems in the body.
Any child living in a house or apartment containing lead–based paint may be at risk for lead poisoning. As early as 1933, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article entitled "Lead Paint Poisoning in Children," in which two Boston physicians identified lead as the primary source of child lead poisoning.
Companies Suppressed Information About Lead Hazards
Lead and paint manufacturers suppressed information about the toxic effects of lead–based paint products and actively stymied development of alternatives to lead in paint. In the 1920s, painters' unions became aware of the occupational hazards of lead exposure, resulting in workers getting protection from lead poisoning while children of uninformed consumers still ingested paint chips. In 1924, the Glidden Company introduced Zinc–o–lith, a lead–free paint that provided the same results as white lead–based paints. Despite this, Glidden still continued to manufacture and sell lead–based paint.
The Lead Industry Association, formed in 1928, actively attempted to discredit the evidence warning of lead toxicity. It went so far as to publish an industry paper in 1952 affirming the safety of lead, contributing to a delay in banning white lead in paint. Lead paint was finally banned in 1971 (leaded gasoline was not banned until 1982).
Prevention of Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning can be prevented by regular screening followed by educational programs. It is important that children have proper nutrition and eat a balanced diet of foods that supply adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and iron. Good nutrition lowers the amount of swallowed lead that passes to the bloodstream and also may lower some of its toxic effects (see Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Lead, CAS 12709–98–7).
Parents should take the following steps to avoid lead exposure in their children (see Centers for Disease Control, Childhood Lead Poisoning):
- Remove the lead–based paint. Renovating, remodeling, or removal should be done by trained, experienced individuals when the family is out of the home.
- Control dust and paint chip debris.
- Prevent the children from eating dirt or other foreign substances.
- Change work clothes and clean up before going home from a lead–related job.
- Avoid the use of lead around the home for hobbies and other purposes.
- Use cold tap water for drinking and especially for mixing infant formula.
Today, the lead problem has been reduced but by no means eliminated. Ingestion of lead–based paint chips and dust by children continues to be a public health problem. Because of the long awareness of the dangers posed by lead–based paint, the devastating chronic effects of lead poisoning could, and should, have been avoided.
Brayton Purcell is dedicated to aiding people whose lives have been forever changed by needless lead exposure. Most lead victims are children. The defendants may be landlords or sellers who did not disclose the lead paint in buildings. However, they are most often paint and lead manufacturers or successors to these manufacturers. Tracing these companies takes skill and specialized knowledge, which we have gained through years of experience. If a member of your family has been subjected to lead poisoning, we would like to help. Please feel free to contact us to learn about your legal rights.