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#591 - Making the Polluter Pay, 25-Mar-1998

The Governing Council of the American Public Health Association (APHA)
on November 12, 1997 unanimously adopted a policy statement urging
lawsuits against the manufacturers of products that contain lead and
against the lead manufacturers themselves.[*] APHA is a professional
society founded in 1872 representing all disciplines and specialties in
public health.

APHA is urging lawsuits against manufacturers and users to raise funds
to protect the nation's children from toxic lead. Under the influence
of the lead corporations, the U.S. Congress has dragged its feet on
lead abatement for 50 years (see REHW #294, #376), refusing to provide
adequate funding to solve this problem, which continues to reduce the
mental capacity of millions of American children. In keeping with the
well-established principle that "the polluter shall pay," the APHA is
urging that lawsuits be brought by governments, individuals, and
others, seeking monetary compensation for the damages knowingly caused
by the producers and users of lead.

Clearly, this is an important recommendation, coming, as it does, from
the heart of the American public health establishment. Perhaps, by
extension, in future years the APHA will urge lawsuits against the
manufacturers and users of PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), mercury,
cadmium and other persistent pollutants that are demonstrably poisoning
the world's wildlife and human populations.

Here we present the APHA's policy statement verbatim:

9704: Responsibilities of the Lead Pigment Industry and Others to
Support Efforts to Address the National Child Lead Poisoning Problem

The American Public Health Association,

Noting that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers
lead poisoning to be one of the most common and serious environmental
diseases in young children in the U.S., completely preventable;[1] and

Noting that early and recent research has found neurodevelopmental
delays in children at increasingly lower levels of lead exposure;[2-12]

Recognizing that 4.4% of children aged 1-5 years have blood lead levels
above 10 mcg/dl [micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood; a deciliter
is a tenth of a liter and a microgram is a millionth of a gram];[13]

Noting that children who live in poorly maintained, older housing are
at disproportionate risk of being lead-poisoned;[1,13,14] and

Noting that the single most important source of lead poisoning in
children in the U.S. is lead paint;[1,14] and

Noting that over 50 million housing units in the U.S. have lead paint;
[15] and

Noting that the cost of abating the nation's residential lead paint
hazards and treating the short-and long-term effects of lead poisoning
is many billions of dollars,[15] and that there is no source to fund
abatement efforts on a consistent, large-scale and long-term basis,
which means that the public health problem will remain fundamentally
unaddressed; and

Understanding that lead paint was recognized as a source of lead
poisoning in young children as early as 1904;[16] and

Being aware that scores of articles on child lead paint poisoning were
published in medical and scientific journals between 1904 and 1950;
[17,18] and

Noting that the major lead paint and lead pigment manufacturers became
well aware of the dangers of lead paint to children in the early 1900s,
yet continued to sell lead paint well beyond 1950;[17] and

Understanding that lead pigment manufacturers, despite the knowledge of
the hazards, continued campaigns to promote and increase the sale of
lead-based paint and minimize the public and governmental knowledge of
the hazards;[17,19] and

Recalling that the principle of "polluter pays" is well-established in
cases of environmental damage and public health problems, some examples
being: tobacco (taxes, state government law suits);[20-23] asbestos
(governmental[24] and private law suits); Superfund (trust fund,
governmental law suits);[25] Florida Everglades pollution from sugar
production (state constitutional amendment requiring that the polluter
pay);[26] and

Noting that over the 1920-1936 period alone, the lead pigment industry
sold over $455 million (in 1920-1936 dollars) worth of white lead
pigment;[27,28] and

Noting that the largest manufacturers of lead pigment in this century,
or their successors, are still in business as profitable companies
(combined net assets in 1995 of approximately $30 billion)[29,30] and
have not been held financially accountable for the damage caused by
their products; and

Recalling that there are precedents (such as the cases of asbestos,[24]
cigarettes,[20-23] Superfund[25]) for governments suing polluting
companies to recover damages; and that doing so in the case of lead
paint poisoning could help increase public visibility of the issue; and
that doing so may help discourage corporations from engaging in future
irresponsible behavior that damages the environment or the public
health; and

Recognizing that residential lead-based paint abatement has been found
overall to be safe and effective in reducing children's exposure to
lead,[31-34] despite some conflicting data;[35,36]

Noting that data are lacking on the optimal methods of lead paint
abatement to maximize safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness;

Recognizing that HUD-proposed standards and EPA guidance levels for
lead in dust and soil do not adequately protect children from sub-
clinical lead toxicity. In fact, these standards and guidance levels
are 4-to 10-fold higher than levels estimated to be associated with 10%
of children having a blood lead level in excess of 10 mcg/dl.[37]
Further recognizing that other studies indicate that dust lead levels
considerably lower than 100 mcg/dl [sic] on floors are inadequate to
protect children from undue lead exposure;[38,39] therefore

1. Supports efforts to increase the resources devoted to lead
abatement, reduction of lead hazards in housing, and community-based
prevention and health education;

2. Supports efforts to raise such resources through a variety of means
including litigation against manufacturers of products that contain
lead (such as lead manufacturers), legislation, negotiation, and fees;

3. Urges the federal government to pass legislation establishing a tax
on the production of lead to be used for a trust fund for removing lead
paint hazards in low-income housing and for community-based prevention
and risk reduction health education;

4. Reaffirms the recommendations provided by APHA policy statement
#8909: Reducing Health Risks Related to Environmental Lead Exposure;

5. Urges the EPA to promulgate a health-based standard for house dust
and residential soil that are adequate to protect preschool children
from unacceptable lead exposure;

6. Urges HUD to conduct a national survey of housing, incorporating
sources of lead exposure and children's blood lead levels; and

7. Urges HUD, EPA and CDC to collaboratively fund or conduct research
on the optimal methods of abatement to maximize safety, efficacy and

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


[*] "[Policy Statement] 9704," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH Vol.
88, No. 3 (March 1998), pgs. 498-500.

[1] Centers for Disease Control. Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young
Children. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1991.

[2] Byers R, Lord E. Late effects of lead poisoning on mental
development. AM J DIS CHILD 1943;66:471-494.

[3] Needleman HL, Gunnoe C, Leviton A, Reed R, Peresie H, Mager C,
Barrett P. Deficits in psychologic and classroom performance of
children with elevated dentine lead levels. N ENGL J MED 1979;300:689-

[4] Winneke G, Lilienthal H, Kramer U. The neurobehavioural toxicology
and teratology of lead. ARCH TOXICOL 1996; 18(Suppl):57-70.

[5] Landrigan PJ, Todd AC, Wedeen RP. Lead poisoning. MOUNT SINAI J MED

[6] Bellinger D, Dietrich KN. Low-level lead exposure and cognitive
function in children. PED ANNALS 1994;23(11):600-605.

[7] Needleman HL. The current status of childhood low-level lead
toxicity. NEUROTOXICOL 1993; 14(2-3):161-166.

[8] Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The Nature and
Extent of Lead Poisoning in Children in the United States: A Report to
Congress, 1988. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human
Services, Public Health Service.

[9] Needleman HL, Gastonis CA. Low-level lead exposure and the IQ of
children. JAMA 1990;263:673-678.

[10] Schwartz J. Low-level exposure and children's IQ: A meta-analysis
and search for a threshold. ENVIRON RES 1994;65:42-55.

[11] Shukla R, Dietrich KN, Bornschein RL, Berger O, Hammond PB. Lead
exposure and growth in the early pre-school child. PEDIATRICS

[12] Needleman HL, Riess JA, Tobin MJ, Biesecker GE, Greenhouse JB.
Bone lead levels and delinquent behavior. JAMA 1996;275:363-369.

[13] Centers for Disease Control. Update: Blood lead levels--United
States, 1991-1994. MMWR 1997;46:141-146.

[14] Sargent JD, Brown MJ, Freeman JL, Bailey A, Goodman D, Freeman DH.
Childhood lead poisoning in Massachusetts communities: its association
with sociodemographic and housing characteristics. AM J PUBLIC HEALTH

[15] HUD. Comprehensive and Workable Plan for the Abatement of Lead-
Based Paint in Privately Owned Housing. Washington, DC: US Department
of Housing and Urban Development, 1990.

[16] Gibson, JL. A plea for painted railings and painted walls of rooms
as the source of lead poisoning amongst Queensland children. AUSTRALIAN
MEDICAL GAZETTE 1904;23:149-153.

[17] Rabin R. Warnings unheeded: a history of child lead poisoning. AM
J PUBLIC HEALTH 1989;79:1668-1674.

[18] Lin-Fu J. Lead poisoning and undue lead exposure in children:
history and current status. In: Needleman HL (ed): Low Level Lead
Exposure: Clinical Implications of Current Research. New York: Raven
Press, 1980.

[19] Environmental Defense Fund. The Hour of Lead. Washington, DC:
Environmental Defense Fund, 1992.

[20] Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Philip Morris, Inc. et al., Civil
No. 95-7378, Massachusetts Superior Court.

[21] Moore v. The American Tobacco Co. et al., CN 94-1429, Chancery
Court of Jackson County, Mississippi.

[22] McGraw v. The American Tobacco Co. et al., 94-C-1707, Circuit
Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia.

[23] The State of Florida, Lawton M. Chiles, Jr., Individually and as
Governor of the State of Florida, Department of Business and
Professional Regulation, and the Agency for Health Care Administration
v. The American Tobacco Co., et al., CN95-1466, Fifteenth Judicial
Circuit, Palm Beach County, Florida.

[24] State v. Owens Corning Fiberglass, et al., Massachusetts Superior
Court, Civil docket #90-3791-A.

[25] Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability
Act of 1980, US Congress.

[26] State of Florida Constitution, Amendment No. 5.

[27] US Bureau of Mine: Minerals Yearbook. Washington, DC: US Bureau of
Mines, 1921-1935.

[28] Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter: Lead, zinc pigment sales: 1936. June
28, 1937.

[29] Moody's Investors Service. MOODY'S INDUSTRIAL MANUAL. New York:
Moody's Investors Service, 1996.

[30] Moody's Investors Service. MOODY'S OTC INDUSTRIAL MANUAL. New
York: Moody's Investors Service, 1996.

[31] Farfel MR, Chisolm JJ. An evaluation of experimental practices for
abatement of residential lead-based paint: report on a pilot project.
ENVIRON RES 1991;55:199-212.

[32] Farfel MR, Chisolm JJ, Rhode CA. The long-term effectiveness of
residential lead paint abatement. ENVIRON RES 1994;66:217-221.

[33] Staes CJ, Matte T, Copley G, Flanders D, Binder S. Retrospective
study of the impact of lead-based paint remediation on children's blood
lead levels. St. Louis. AM J PUBLIC HEALTH 1994;139:1016-1026.

[34] Swindell SL, Charney E, Brown MJ, Delaney J. Home abatement and
blood lead changes in children with class III lead poisoning. CLIN PED

[35] Farfel MR, Chisolm JJ. Health and environmental outcomes of
traditional and modified practices for abatement of residential lead-
based paint. AM J PUBLIC HEALTH 1990;80:1240-1245.

[36] Aschengrau A, Beiser A, Bellinger D, Copenhafer D, Weitzman M. The
impact of residential lead-based paint hazard remediation and soil lead
abatement among children with mildly elevated blood lead levels. AM J
PUBLIC HEALTH 1997;87:1698-1702.

[37] Lanphear BP, Weitzman M, Winter NL, Tanner M, Yakir B, Eberly S,
Emond M, Matte TD. Lead-contaminated house dust and urban children's
blood lead levels. AM J PUBLIC HEALTH 1996;86:1416-1421.

[38] Rabinowitz M, Leviton A, Needleman H, Bellinger D, Waternaux C.
Environmental correlates of infant blood lead levels in Boston. ENVIRON
RES 1985;38:96-107.

[39] Clark S, Bornschein R, Succop P, Roda S, Peace B. Urban lead
exposures of children in Cincinnati, Ohio. CHEMICAL SPECIATION
BIOAVAILABILITY 1991;3:168-171.

Descriptor terms: lead; children; apha; american public health
association; toxic heavy metals; resolutions; polluter pays principle;
housing; paint; paint industry; lead industry; tobacco;