RHODE ISLAND: State Sues Former Makers of Lead Paint
On Tuesday, the state of Rhode Island filed a lawsuit against several former manufacturers of lead paint, arguing that the companies "conspired" to hide that their product was a public health threat, the Wall Street Journal reports. The lawsuit -- similar to the recent barrage of suits against the tobacco industry -- is the first of its kind in which a state seeks legal damages to cover the costs of treating lead poisoning related illnesses, including the costs to "strip all lead paint from public and private buildings." The suit alleges that eight companies disregarded evidence that lead paint poses great public health risks to both individuals and the environment. However, the defendants disagree that any harm caused by the lead paint was intentional, as Timothy Hardy, an attorney for one of the defendants named in the suit -- NL Industries -- states, "This is the story of an industry that investigates and publicized the hazards of its product and took appropriate action to protect the public. It is not the story of an industry that hid anything or conspired to hide anything." Nevertheless, Rhode Island officials argue that the paint industry knew of the dangers of lead as early as the turn of the century -- yet continued to market the product.
New Legal Onslaught?
The Rhode Island suit, like the tobacco suits before it, also "alleges a more generalized harm to the state from the environmental hazard of lead paint, rather than specific injuries to individuals." The lawsuit spawns the potential for similar actions to be filed by other states, counties and municipalities nationwide. In addition to damages owed to the state of Rhode Island -- for which the cost of removing old paint is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars -- the suit asks for "unspecified damages to fund a massive public-education campaign about the dangers of continued exposure lead paint." The federal government banned the use of lead in paints in 1978, and most manufacturers discontinued using lead in the 1950's (Geyelin, 10/13).