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 27, 2006

Sorting through the evidence

Initially, I could not understand how the jury in the first trial was deadlocked and how the jury in the second trial found it difficult to reach their final decision. I thought a verdict in favor of the state was a no-brainer. However, after delving deeper into the case, it seems that the information presented could easily leave a person confused and wary of the validity of the state’s claim.
Although I undoubtedly agree with the jury’s final decision in the retrial, the defense deserves credit for their efforts. The question at stake in the first trial was whether lead paint constituted a public nuisance. The defense argued that lead paint is not harmful if intact, and only poses a threat if allowed to deteriorate, thereby placing the blame on parents and landlords for the lead poisoning. This argument may lead a juror, whose knowledge of the issue is limited to the courtroom, to believe that lead paint constitutes a private, not public nuisance. Defense lawyers stated that lead poisoning only occurred in one in twelve homes in Rhode Island that contained lead paint. The argument about lead paint constituting a private nuisance was bolstered when Rhode Island’s lawyers also did not seem to completely prove their case by not proving that children were poisoned in hospitals, schools, and other public buildings. The state only checks for the presence of lead paint in homes of children who suffer lead poisoning. In 1993, 35, 227 children supposedly suffered from lead poisoning. Some of the testing procedures used to determine this number were later deemed inaccurate, causing further controversy over the state’s claim. Finally, the representatives of the companies believed that they should not be blamed for their predecessor’s actions. Arguments such as those stated above allowed the lead paint companies to win 40 cases prior to the Rhode Island case.
In the retrial, jurors were able to see past the defense’s tactics to manipulate the jury into believing that lead paint was actually a private nuisance. The most important issue is that even if lead paint does appear intact, even banging on a wall or shutting windows or doors covered with lead paint can produce harmful dust that can easily poison young children. Even if lead paint were not harmful if intact, the companies did not warn consumers about the potential harm of allowing paint to deteriorate. This fact alone proved that the companies acted negligently and should be held liable for their actions. Rhode Island has had to bear the financial burden of financing education, abatement, and lead detection. Had the companies properly warned consumers, the paint would likely not have been used and the state would not have to clean up the problem that the companies created. The fact that lead paint is never safe and that the state has been forced to amend the problem on its own proves that lead paint is not only a private, but also a public nuisance.


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