Lead Paint Trial: Has Industry Known the Toxic Dangers for Years?

Five major paint corporations went on trial this week in California, facing claims they knowingly poisoned generations of children with the neurotoxic heavy metal and continue today, with lead-based paint lingering and deteriorating on walls of homes around the country.

Plaintiffs in ten California cities and counties are seeking close to $1 billion in costs to strip the toxic heavy metal that remains on millions of residences throughout the state, and save “additional children from being poisoned” and millions of dollars in medical, special education and lost-productivity costs burdening “society as a whole,” according to a trial brief filed in the Superior Court of California on July 1st.

It was reported that an internal company memo in 1900 read, “Any paint is poisonous in proportion to the percentage of lead contained in it,” from the Sherwin-Williams Co.  Despite this, Sherwin-Williams Co. went on to become one of the top selling lead-based paint manufacturers and promoted with other industry members, the use of paint with large percentages of lead – “the higher, the better.”

A Sherwin-Williams magazine advertisement in the 1920s read, “White lead should be the basic ingredient of all white paint and light tints.” The ad stated, “It is to these paints exactly what flour is to bread.”

It is clear that Sherwin-Williams Co. knowingly put out a dangerous product, risking the health of generations of children.

This lawsuit was filed 13 years ago and the trial has finally begun this week, after so many years of industry objections.

David Rosner, co-director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University, will testify as an expert witness for the plaintiffs.

“This is a huge epidemic that has changed the lives of literally millions of children in America,” said Rosner, who described a history of deceit within the lead paint industry and the ongoing public health battle in the book he co-authored, Lead Wars, which was published in April. “The single biggest problem has been that the industry historically defeated any attempt to control lead on the walls of the nation.

“Lead on walls is by far the largest source of poisoning for kids,” Rosner added. Of course, lead-painted walls—especially if deteriorating—can mean lead on windowsills and floors. And every time a window or door is opened or closed, more dust can be stirred, Rosner said.

Lead paint was banned by the U.S. government for use in residences in 1978, after almost a century of scientific studies had linked low levels of the paint to low IQ, learning disorders, sociopathic behavior and other maladies.  The ban came several decades after other countries had forbidden its use.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that up to a half-million children have blood lead levels above “the level of concern,” a benchmark lowered to 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood in May 2012. The CDC also noted that there is no safe level of lead in a child’s blood.

Additionally, scientists recently found ample evidence that lead’s dangers are not just limited to kids.

“The effects of lead may be most severe for adults, and at extremely low levels – even below levels associated with children’s cognition,” said Ellen Silbergeld, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She also noted that studies have linked lead exposure to increased blood pressure and stroke.

Silbergeld stated, “There’s been knowledge that lead was toxic going back millennia. It was probably one of the first poisons identified by the ancients of Greek medicine.”

Despite this knowledge, lead paint manufacturers marketed their products as not only safe, but beneficial to health thanks to its durability and washability.  National Lead Co. even marketed its Dutch Boy-brand lead paint with painting books for children and ads in magazines suggesting that lead “helps guard your health.”

These leading lead companies formed an industry group in the 1920s to improve their public image, campaigning against government regulations, ignoring the use of safer alternatives, according to a trial brief.

“They were deliberately putting themselves in positions to create a different knowledge,” Silbergeld sald. And “that is where they are culpable.”

Although the paint industry stated that there are no or very few cases of children’s ingestion of lead that required intervention, as Rosner pointed out, “The problem is, you can’t really see lead poisoning in a kid. The damage is subtle. How do you know if a kid would have a five-point-higher IQ?”

Tamara Rubin alleges that following the renovation of their home, her two sons suffered obvious acute lead poisoning and today struggle with learning and behavioral issues.  She is the executive director of the nonprofit Lead Safe America Foundation and director of the upcoming documentary “MisLEAD.”

Rubin believes that the testing of blood lead levels in children is still too uncommon. She said she believes that one in three American children under the age of 18 is affected by lead poisoning. The concern now, she states, is “today, we have new hazards—hazards that were not present in the 1950s and 1960s. Even outside of the concern of remodeling, the mere deterioration of paint that was applied in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s—paint that was intended to last for decades (and did)—is deteriorating now for the very first time.”

The memo from Sherwin-Williams in 1900 hinted that, “The noxious quality becomes serious in a paint which disintegrates and is blown about by the wind.”

Yet, they continued to manufacture, market and profit from the lead-based paints that endangered so many Americans.

What is a fair settlement for the permanent learning and behavior disabilities so many people suffered due to this dangerous product? Feel free to comment on this blog post.  Contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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