Monday, July 7, 2008

Rhode Island Paint Law

A House of Representatives committee examined lead-based paint and found them to be highly toxic. “The most eminent scientists and doctors . . . reached the conclusion that white lead is poison,” testified Marion E. Rhodes, a representative from Missouri. A big was introduced in May of that year in the interest of public health. The bill required for federal regulation concerning the manufacture, sale and use of any paint containing white lead. Also, all lead-based paints were to be labeled with a skull and crossbones and with the words “Poison: white lead.” The bill was defeated. The year was 1910.

Twenty one years later, the president of the National Lead Company, Edward J. Cornish, admitted in a letter to the dean of the Harvard Medical School, David Edsall, “manufacturers as a result of fifty to sixty years experience, agreed that lead is a poison when it enters the stomach of man – whether it comes directly from the ores and mines and smelting works or from the ordinary forms of carbonate of lead, lead oxides, and sulfate and sulfide of lead.” Within a year 400 delegates from 40 nations met at the Third International Labor Conference of the League of Nations and discussed the regulation of lead and lead-based paints. As a result many European counties started bans or restrictions on the use of white lead paint. France, Belgium and Austria were ahead of the rest of Europe by enacting regulations in 1909. Tunisia and Greece were in 1922, Czechoslovakia in 1924, Great Britain, Sweden and Belgium in 1926, Poland in 1927, Spain and Yugoslavia in 1931 and Cuba in 1934.

In 1935, Felix Wormser (great name by the way) from the Lead Industries Association admitted, “Hardly a day goes by but what this subject (poisoning from lead-based paints) receives some attention at the headquarters of the Association.”

The National Lead Company responded by including children in it’s Dutch Boy brand’s marketing images. It created “A Paint Book for Girls and Boys” that tried to minimize the dangers of lead and it also targeted using lead paint for painting schools. Images of children playing around painted surfaces or even mixing paints were commonly used.

It wasn’t until the 1950’s that manufactures, responding to growing concern about the safety of lead-based paint, eliminated lead from their products. Twenty years later, in 1978, the United States Government finally banned the use of lead paint, 54 years after Czechoslovakia banned it’s use. In 2003, the new Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch resumes legal action against the paint companies. That case was won in 2007. In July 2008, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturns that ruling against the paint companies.

When the original case was started in 1999, 6.9% of children tested in Rhode Island indicated unsafe levels of lead in their bloodstream. By 2007, the rate had fallen to 1.3%.
The ruling would have penalized the paint companies billions of dollars. Motley Rice, a private law firm Rhode Island outsourced this case to, would have earned a healthy percentage of billions of dollars. Motley Rice LLC labels themselves as, “. . . one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ litigation firms. Our attorneys and staff work hard not only for our clients, but for the causes they represent. We are working to advance the greater good – for out clients and for all society.” Motley Rice could really advance their standing in high society with a percentage of billions of damages from one state alone. Had they won the case for Rhode Island, they would have been the law firm of choice for, not only other states, but for many counties, cities and towns wishing to take legal action against the paint comp


Richard Goodman said...

I am betting that a great deal of thge push to outlaw lead in paint came from the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which showed that concentrations of lead were damaging birds by making their eggs softer and more liable to break befrore hatching. Sad to say that this push came more from birds than our own children (though I value birds very much, too).

Christine said...

That's horrifying. I think that here in GA, lead paint is far less prevalent than up North. So I'm not surprised that I haven't read about this sooner. It's unconscionable that it would take so long to discontinue it's manufacture.