The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution

The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution

"... The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution": Taking Action in a Landmark Case Against the Lead-Paint Industry

Monday, February 27, 2006

On February 22, 2006 a landmark case was decided in Rhode Island against three lead paint companies. The case determined that three out of four companies being sued by the state of Rhode Island are liable for knowingly poisoning children. Hopefully this case will not be the last of it’s kind. With the help of cases such as this, companies can be held legally responsible for the dangerous products that they produce. Our group is lucky enough to be working with one of the expert historians who testified in the case, Doctor David Rosner.
Our group first met with Dr. Rosner on February 1, when he told us about the history of the case and his involvement in it. Hearing his story was an honor in itself; Rosner is passionate about his work and has inspired our group to begin our own intellectual quest in occupational and environmental health. What began as an exercise in research and questioning has led him to write numerous books on occupational and public health. During our first short meeting, he taught us the importance of historical literature and how his diligent search through documents recovered from industries during the legal process of “discovery” helped him write his book. Rosner led us through the story of the case and gave us some background information that will help us delve into our own search on industrial pollution.
The historical background of industrial pollution is the large umbrella topic that I will be working on. I am excited to continue my research, because what I have so far is already incredibly interesting! Lead based paint was banned in the United States in 1978, after studies showed that it caused brain damage and other serious health problems, especially in young children and fetuses. In the Rhode Island case, Dr. Philip Landrigan, an expert in childhood lead poisoning from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, testified that if a child consumed a paint chip half the size of his fingernail they would be sent into a coma or convulsions ( The Medical Encyclopedia states that 1 in 20 preschoolers have high levels of lead in their blood. But how? How could that be possible if lead paint use was banned since 1978? The problem is that most buildings were constructed prior to that time, and many still have lead paint or lead dust from chipped paint present. In fact, it was not until 1996 that a new law was applied to houses built before 1978 that made the realtor responsible for telling the buyer of the possible danger. Now, sellers and landlords are required to give new buyers a brochure entitled, “Protecting Your Family From Lead in Your Home.”
A brochure? That’s it? Dr. Rosner is correct. Someone needs to start taking responsibility for these deaths of little children. My research into historical articles has shown that the dangers of lead paint were apparent as early as the 1850s. Europe banned the use of lead paint in residences in 1921. The United States was not only fifty years behind; we are almost a century behind. Children are still being poisoned! This case is one step closer to making industry step up and take responsibility for their actions. The verdict in the case shows that they knowingly have sacrificed lives for profit and this is simply unacceptable. I hope that our project will help Dr. Rosner. Our project will give us a better insight to the world of industrial pollution and how responsibility developed over time.


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