Battle Lines Drawn Over Lead Paint Poisoning Liability
March 9, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Taking their cue from victories over the tobacco
industry, government bodies have a new target in their sights: paint companies
-- specifically those that at one time sold lead-based paint and coatings.
Regulations banning the use of lead in gasoline, new paint, food cans, and
other products have substantially reduced the U.S. population's lead exposure
over the past two decades, said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., in a formal
statement introducing the Lead Poisoning Expense Recovery Act in 1999. But as
many as 1 million children are still exposed to lead-based products daily, he
Very high levels can have devastating health consequences, including brain
and nervous system damage, seizures, coma, and death. Even low levels of lead
in the blood can have detrimental effects on a child's ability to learn. This
can be hazardous for children living in older communities where, until the
1970s, lead-based paint was used extensively.
The first salvo fired at the paint companies came from Rhode Island. Last
November, the state's attorney general filed a lawsuit in state court accusing
eight companies, including DuPont and Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), of
promoting the use of lead paint while covering up the dangers it posed to
"There are many legal and technical issues involved that we believe show
the Rhode Island lawsuit has no merit," DuPont spokesman Cliff Webb,
director of media relations, tells WebMD. "That's why we, along with the
other defendants, have filed a motion to dismiss."
ARCO spokeswoman Marylou Ferry tells WebMD in a faxed statement that ARCO
has been sued unsuccessfully in a variety of cases because, in the late 1970s,
ARCO bought a company that had once owned a company that made lead pigment more
than 50 years ago.
"Trial lawyers are attempting to hold ARCO liable for a product that it
never made, sold, or profited from -- a product that was made over 50 years
ago, before the dangers of interior lead-based paint were known," she
The lawsuit also names as a defendant the Lead Industries Association, an
industry trade group. It seeks to make the defendants pay for both treating
children poisoned by lead paint and removing lead paint from buildings.
"Rhode Island's lawsuit against America's paint industry is
fundamentally misdirected and will do nothing to reduce children's exposure to
lead dust," says J. Andrew Doyle, president of the National Paint &
Coatings Association, in a prepared statement. "Instead of wasting precious
state resources on unwarranted and unsupportable litigation, Rhode Island
should work with us to promote constructive solutions: community-based programs
that identify and eliminate lead hazards."
But in Maryland, Baltimore lawmakers are backing legislation that would make
it easier for victims of lead poisoning to sue manufacturers of lead-based
paint for damages based on the theory of "market-share liability."
Market-share liability states that companies can be held liable for any damages
caused by use of a product that they manufactured, according to the companies'
proportionate share of the market at the time their product was used.