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Lifting the Lid on Lead Paint's Fearful Legacy

For more than three decades, starting from the 1920s, the paint industry consistently declared that the more lead you had in your paint, the better the result. As a consequence, many government-owned buildings were ordered to use lead paint. The US Lead Industries Association emphasized the clean and long-lasting nature of the product.

Today, Plaintiffs who suffered lead poisoning argue that the industry knew about dangers of its product, concealed it, and deliberately misled the public into believing that their product was safe. Victims further argue that the all the major paint and lead pigment manufacturers in the country denied scientific evidence of the serious dangers of poisoning from the toxic pigments contained in the paint, and that this conspiracy had seriously and irrevocably damaged the health of millions of American children.

According to the Alliance To End Childhood Lead Poisoning, 40% of all US homes (a staggering 38 million) contain lead paint and 4.4% of all American children under five have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Children living in homes containing lead paint can swallow harmful amounts of lead if they play in the dirt or in dusty areas and then put their fingers, clothes or toys in their mouths, or if they eat without first washing their hands. Children are also at risk because lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies. The children affected the most are from low-income families living in sub-standard housing - they are eight times more likely to suffer from lead poisoning. Exposure to excessive levels of lead can cause brain damage, affect a child's growth, damage kidneys, impair hearing, cause vomiting, headaches and appetite loss, and result in learning and behavioral problems, according to the U.S. National Heath Safety Council. Adults are also not immune to lead-induced health conditions and can develop high blood pressure, digestive problems, kidney damage, nerve disorders, sleep problems, muscle and joint pain and mood changes.

Research linking lead paint to serious health conditions was first documented in the 19th century but had become much more authoritative by 1908. The following year France and Austria became the first nations to ban lead paints. Great Britain banned lead paints in 1926. The U.S. passed a federal ban on the use of white lead in paint in 1978, although some U.S. cities and states acted independently before that. The industry itself introduced a voluntary ban in 1955. There are a number of explanations as to why America took so long to act. It is thought that the delay is due to the fact that the lead mining industry in the early decades of the 20th century accounted for a large number of jobs and consequently had a great influence in Washington D.C.

It is neither easy nor cheap to remove lead paint. Lead paint must be removed under wet conditions by a trained lead abatement officer. It can cost up to $20,000 per house to complete the hazardous task.


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