How the Paint Industry Escapes Responsibility for Lead Poisoning


The main focus of my story in January about the link between lead and crime was on leaded gasoline. That was mainly because the rise and fall of leaded gasoline following World War II tracks the rise and fall of crime between the 60s and 90s. However, lead is lead, and the lead in leaded paint has all the same ill effects when small children are exposed to it: it reduces IQ, increases learning disabilities, and affects parts of the brain linked to impulse control. Despite that, activist groups haven’t had much luck holding the paint industry accountable. Lilly Fowler reports for us today on what happened:

Apart from one settlement, the industry has successfully fended off roughly 50 lawsuits by states, cities, counties, and school districts over the past quarter century. Now, in a trial under way in San Jose, California, industry lawyers are seeking a final victory in a case brought by 10 agencies, including the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego, and the counties of Los Angeles and Santa Clara. The agencies want the industry to cover the cost of eliminating lead paint from all the homes in their jurisdictions; the price tag could exceed $1 billion.

….Defense lawyers have argued in a brief that the companies weren’t aware when they promoted lead paint that it would someday cause harm. “Scientific knowledge concerning lead exposure evolved over the decades,” it reads. What’s more, they claim there is no longer any widespread danger from lead. Today’s blood lead levels, according to their court filings, do not present “a current public health crisis” but rather “a public health success story.”

What’s more, they argue, California already has a well-funded lead poisoning prevention program that collects annual fees primarily from the gasoline industry, but also from makers of paint and other lead-containing products.

Unfortunately, the research linking lead to crime has probably come too late to have an impact in this case. Read the whole thing to learn how the paint industry has managed for decades to avoid responsibility for the catastrophic effects of their products.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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