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Industry Group Warned Members About Lead Paint Hazards

Paint Companies Liable for Lead Poisoning, RI Jury Says

PROVIDENCE, RI -- March 10, 2006 -- Three paint companies created a "public nuisance," damaged property and poisoned children by exposing them to lead paint, a Rhode Island jury concluded last month. Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc., and Millennium Holdings LLC, must clean up lead paint contamination in over 240,000 Rhode Island homes. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein, who presided over the trial, will determine how and when the work must begin.

The companies could be responsible for millions of dollars of damage, depending upon the cost of rehabilitating each home. "It's very clear, under anyone's scenario, that it's a massive undertaking regardless of where you might ultimately draw the line as to when the nuisance is abated," commented Jack McConell, a lawyer representing the Rhode Island Attorney General's office, which filed the lawsuit in 1999 (NBC 10 News, March 1, 2006).

Manufacturers Knew About Lead Paint Dangers

The paint companies were well aware of the hazards of lead paint, but did not inform the public, according to the lawsuit. Medical journal articles published between 1904 and 1955 concluded that lead paint was toxic. In a 1939 confidential memo, the industry group known as the National Paint, Varnish & Lacquer Association, warned its members that lead could cause serious harm, the complaint said.

Lead exposure hurts children by causing learning disabilities, decreasing intelligence, impairing motor skills, and decreasing attention and memory. At high levels, lead can cause seizures, coma and even death. Although the manufacture of lead-based paint was finally outlawed in 1978, lead paint still remains in many homes, schools, hospitals and apartments. In the United States, about 310,000 children from the ages of one through five years have blood lead levels greater than the recommended level of 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lead Information). These high blood lead levels are mainly the result of exposure to lead paint.

California Appeals Court Reinstates Lawsuit Against Lead Paint Manufacturers

Rhode Island is the first state to successfully take on paint manufacturers over the issue of lead poisoning. A week after the Rhode Island trial ended, a California appeals court reinstated a class action lawsuit by state cities and counties against eight paint manufacturers (San Mateo County Times, March 7, 2006). The lawsuit seeks to force the paint companies to clean up lead paint contamination in government buildings and low-income housing. A lower court had dismissed the suit before it could go to trial.

On the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency delayed work last year on enacting regulations to protect children from lead paint during remodels and renovations, and instead considered voluntary standards for the industry, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. After receiving complaints from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), other Democrats, consumer advocates, and the attorney general offices of New York and Illinois, the agency abandoned its voluntary standards in January 2006 and enacted new lead paint rules.

What Can You Do To Protect Your Child From Lead Paint?

Over 80% of homes built before 1978 contain lead paint. The CDC recommends that you take these steps to minimize your child's exposure to lead:

  • Hire only a trained professional to remove lead paint.
  • Have your child get a blood test for lead levels if you suspect that you have lead paint in your home.
  • Control debris from paint and dust.
  • Prevent children from eating dirt or other foreign substances.
  • Use cold tap water. If your water pipes contain lead, the lead dissolves more in hot water.

For more information about children and lead, see the Public Health Statement for Lead, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the CDC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. See the Rhode Island Attorney General web site for the full text of the complaint in the state lead paint case. You will need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this file. If you do not already have this software, you may download a free copy at the Adobe Acrobat web site.

Please feel free to contact us at Brayton Purcell to learn about your legal rights if a member of your family has suffered from lead poisoning. We have been successfully handling cases involving medical/legal issues for over 20 years, and will evaluate your case free of charge.

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