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, March 20, 2006

From a different perspective

While spending time in Rhode Island this past week, I was fortunate enough to speak with Peter Lord, the Providence Journal Bulletin’s environmental journalist who has been responsible for covering the RI trial. He witnessed every aspect of the trial, while other news outlets only arrived for the closing of the trial. The outcome of this trial was of particular interest for investment bankers, children’s advocacy groups, and parties across the nation who may choose to pursue similar trials. It was fascinating to be able to speak with someone who witnessed the trial firsthand from an unbiased point of view. He noted that a case in California, The County of Santa Clara v. Atlantic Richfield, does not mention the Rhode Island case at all and it is probably coincidental that these cases are taking place at the same time. However, he stated that he believes that there will be future cases that will directly result from the Rhode Island case.
There were two interesting points that Mr. Lord brought up that really caught my attention. He discussed the politics of the case, the way in which each side acted towards the jury and the way in which each side has the opportunity to manipulate evidence. Rhode Island has presented itself as a liberal party; the state’s lawyers, despite their Ivy-League educations, presented themselves as “regular guys” who seemed friendly and laid back. The defense, on the other hand, was more conservative, as they represented big business in which the only major concern was money, rather than the lives of thousands of children. Most of the victims of lead poisoning were poor minorities with no political clout, so it was difficult for this issue to gain recognition on a large-scale. During the trial, none of the witnesses were victims of lead poisoning; the witnesses were primarily medical experts and historians. The problem with this is, as Mr. Lord pointed out, that it is possible to “buy” history; in other words, pay someone to say what one wants to hear. Although Dr. Rosner’s testimony was clearly valid and well researched, the defense sought to use this idea to discredit his testimony and question his status as a historian. After reading through Peter English’s book Old Paint, it seems that the defense tried to use this book to downplay the hazards of lead paint. The trial was so political because of its importance to so many different groups. As mentioned above, investment bankers and children’s advocacy groups watched the trial closely. Following the hung jury in the first round, the paint companies’ stocks increased; they dropped following the state’s victory.
A second issue that caught my attention was the effects of lead poisoning and the way in which it may affect future criminal cases. Lead poisoning can severely damage its victims’ brains, leaving them unable to think and function properly. Mr. Lord questioned whether lead poisoning could be used as a defense in a criminal case, much like an insanity plea. It may explain a “stupid” criminal’s actions. This could open a whole new can of worms in the legal system.
The large questions that remains are: what will be the next material that will trigger such a significant lawsuit? Will the battle over lead paint become so great, with so many cases being filed, that there will need to be a settlement similar to that of tobacco?


Alyson C Baker said...

I am so glad to read Rebecca's post, because it really gives our group perspective and keeps us connected to the task at hand. Her hometown is Rhode Island, and from the way she describes it, one can see how many of the people there are connected and know one another. I think it is so interesting that a case such as this would arise from a place that has strong community ties and where many people know one another. The question you raise about lead poisoning being used as a defense in a criminal case is a good one. It is funny how one court decision can spiral off into a thousand other issues involving it.

10:53 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

This page has been created and published by a Columbia University student, faculty or staff member as part of course or other requirements. The ideas and information expressed in this publication have not been approved or authorized by Columbia University, and the University shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever resulting from any action arising in connection with its publication. Columbia University is not responsible for the contents of any off-site information referenced herein.