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

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Before leaving for break, our team met with Doctor Rosner to discuss the research we have been doing and the progress being made in the lead based paint cases. We began our session by discussing the case and its remarkable progress. After the win in Rhode Island, so much had been happening and it was moving rapidly. Like wildfire, the court’s decision has spread and influenced other pending cases across the country. In New Jersey, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and there had been talk about moving the case to the national Supreme Court.

At first I was hesitant to show Doctor Rosner what I have found in my research, thinking that he may have already seen many of the documents that I uncovered online. He reassured all of us that the work we are doing is important, and reminded us to not assume that he has seen anything. He showed us the importance of continuing our historical quest by illustrating the impact his own personal research had on the Rhode Island case. He remarked about the outcome, “its all hitching on this history…these documents that they found.” Rosner also let us see us a slide show of some of the advertisements and memos that were uncovered and used during the case. They blew my mind because the paint companies blatantly went out of their way to advertise to young children, to push for their walls and even the bars of their cribs to be covered with poison paint. And the memos show that they knew about the poisonous nature of their product all along. Another interesting thing that Rosner pointed out to us was the way the lead-paint companies had positioned their defense. They argued that they did not know about the dangerous nature of their product while stating that since the poisonous nature of lead was well known, they could not be held accountable. This double-edge sword argument seems contradictory, but it was used throughout the trial to defend the lead paint companies. Doctor Rosner told us about another fascinating historical aspect of the issue concerning lead paint and children—the condition known as “pica.” It was argued that some children have an “abnormal and morbid” craving to put things in their mouths, and some pica-afflicted children crave lead. The industry basically set up a system to blame others for lead poisoning while launching an advertising campaign using children to sell lead. (Think, dutch boy paint). Rosner really knows so much about the history of lead base paint and he learned through historical documents. I never knew researching archival documents could be so interesting and make such an impact, but Doctor Rosner has proved it to be both. Not only has he tapped into a way of making companies pay to help clean up their mistakes, he has started to end the poisoning of children in Rhode Island and hopefully it will spread to the entire nation.

My own personal research has been moving along and now that I am back from break I can really get the ball moving. The advertisements and articles from the early 1900s are ridiculous. Seeing some makes me sick, while others are so unbelievable that one almost questions how they could be true. A few of the more entertaining things that I have come across include the titles, “Louis Kosoks Hair Turns Green From Lead Poisoning” and “Blanche Walsh was Dying; Actresses Illness Due to Lead Poisoning Contracted in Making Up for Stage” 3/03/1909. Some heartbreaking articles show children dying from lead poisoning contracted from ice cream tubs that had lead in them and pewter drinking cups. I also found an advertisement from the Medical News selling a product known as “Thalialion” which is supposed to cure lead poisoning specifically in children. This ad was from the year 1900, so as early as the turn of the century people began recognizing that lead poisoning occurred specifically in children.

If interested and you want to explore further, here are a few sites I recommend. shows some of the ways lead paint advertised towards children. My personal favorite, this website illustrates how women such as Queen Elizabeth wore lead based makeup and even lead paint throughout history. A look to die for? More about cosmetics and lead next week. Until then, thanks for reading and have a great day!


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