Lead paint poisons children

Almost 30 years after lead paint was banned for interior use, a Rhode Island Superior Court found 3 paint manufacturers, or their predecessors, guilty of creating a public nuisance by selling leaded paint after there was evidence that the paint caused harm. They also found the companies liable for correcting the problem. The companies argued that what they did was legal. But Judge Nathan Silverstein, who presided over the case, responded that “[t]he fact that the conduct which caused the nuisance is lawful, does not preclude liability.”
A large part of the state’s case focused on an industry group, The Lead Industries Association, which heavily promoted the use of lead paint while campaigning to cover up reports of children who had been poisoned by lead. Research concerning the danger of lead paint was strong enough that sale of interior residential lead paint was banned in New York City at the end of 1959. During the 1950s, paint companies began to sharply reduce the percent concentration of lead in house paints, from as high as 50% by weight to the 1% to 5% range. Lead was used in both white and coloured paints. In 1978, lead paint was completely banned for use in homes after studies showed it could cause brain damage ad other serious health effects in children.

Attorneys for Rhode Island argued that the companies created a public nuisance by continuing to market the lead-paint pigments which have contributed to poisoning more than 37,000 Rhode Island children during the past 11 years. They also argued that the paint, which continues to deteriorate on more than 240,000 houses, threatens future harm.

Lead paint was used extensively in Canadian homes as well. The Atlantic provinces, with many older houses, likely have a lead paint problem similar to Rhode Island’s. Doors, windows and trim are the places where the highly durable lead paint was most often used in home interiors. Health Canada notes that homes built before 1960 probably contain lead-based paint. Homes built after 1980 and before 1992 are not likely to have lead in interior paint, but there may be lead in the paint used on the exterior. After 1992, all consumer paints produced in Canada and the US were virtually lead-free.

Lead poisoning can cause anemia. It can also damage the brain and nervous system, resulting in learning disabilities. Health Canada writes, “The risks are greater for children than for adults, because children's growing bodies are able to absorb lead more easily. Even small amounts of dust containing lead are dangerous to infants and children. Lead taken in by mothers-to- be can also pose a danger to the health of unborn children.” A common source of lead exposure comes when toddlers chew on lead paint covered windowsills, or swallow flaking paint chips. Dr. Philip Landrigan, an expert in childhood lead poisoning at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, testified in the Rhode Island case that a chip of leaded paint half the size of his fingernail, if swallowed, could send a child into a coma or convulsions.

Renovating homes which contain lead paint can lead to extremely hazardous exposures which may contaminate the entire home, unless proper procedures are followed. Information on renovating homes containing lead paint can be found at http://hc-sc.gc.ca/iyh-vsv/prod/paint-peinture_e.html and www.hud.gov/offices/lead/training/LBPguide.pdf

See also Choose a healthier paint, Healthy painting practices