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Paint Companies Accused of Dodging Lead Claims

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

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Milwaukee’s mayor and an attorney representing more than 100 children are accusing paint companies of trying to dodge the blame for the city’s lead poisoning cases and the millions of dollars in settlements that come with it.

Monday (April 9) saw the latest round of backlash when Mayor Tom Barrett spoke about the case at a city hall news conference, noting that companies appear to be trying to shift focus to lead pipes instead of paint.

© / XiFoto

Milwaukee’s mayor and an attorney representing more than 100 children are accusing paint companies of trying to dodge the blame for the city’s lead poisoning cases and the millions of dollars in settlements that come with it.

"Milwaukee families deserve the facts on lead poisoning so they can take action and protect their children's health," Barrett said. "It's troubling to me that lawyers defending the lead paint industry appear to be using public concern about lead and water to confuse the public and the courts."

What’s Going On

Barrett was referring to a case in which attorney Peter Earle is representing nearly 170 lead-poisoned Milwaukee children in a lawsuit against five paint manufacturers.  Recently, one manufacturer in particular (The Sherwin-Williams Company) has been popping up in headlines after its lawyer filed multiple open records requests into Milwaukee Water Works.

Antonio F. Dias, one of the lead attorneys for Sherwin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the firm is just trying to gather all the data it can.

"I would think that any public health advocate would want to know more, not less, about potential avenues of exposure," Dias said.

The Journal Sentinel reported that Earle has also publicly called into question the defense’s expert citations that say lead-based paint is no longer the leading hazard for lead poisoning. This theory is based solely on former city Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, Earle contends, and not data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I'm not saying that lead in water is not something that needs to be dealt with," Earle said. "But it needs to be dealt with as part of a coherent public health strategy that takes into account the proportional threat that that lead constitutes compared to the lead that's so prevalent in the housing in Milwaukee."

Not So Fast

Others, in addition to the defense, are disapproving of the mayor’s dismissive response to the pipe claims.

© / Marilyn Nieves

The Journal Sentinel reported that Earle has also publicly called into question the defense’s expert citations that say lead-based paint is no longer the leading hazard for lead poisoning. This theory is based solely on former city Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, Earle contends, and not data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Robert Miranda, head of the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition said that despite city data on lead levels in children and maps of lead pipes, the city hasn’t specifically tested the water as a source for lead poisoning in the homes for those with high blood-lead levels.

"So, for the mayor to continue to argue lead in paint is [a] primary source of lead in blood is hollow at best and shady at worst," Miranda told the Journal Sentinel.

Further reporting highlights the data the city does have, however, which compares two districts: District 14 has 9,995 lead service lines and 6.9 percent of children have elevated blood-lead levels, while District 15 has 7,354 lead service lines and 27.4 percent of children with elevated blood-lead levels.

The court case is ongoing and a date for future movement has not been made available. Sherwin-Williams has not responded to a request for comment by Durability + Design News.


Tagged categories: Good Technical Practice; Lawsuits; Lead; Lead; Lead paint abatement; North America

Comment from Tom Bright, (4/11/2018, 3:47 AM)

Any similarity to cases by former Presidential candidate John Edwards and his mentor Fred Baron, who jury-shopped settlements in the hundreds of billions for ginned-up "victims" of asbestos who were not actually sick? Lest it be accidentally removed, please see the following: On the Theory Class's Theories of Asbestos Litigation: The Disconnect between Scholarship and Reality Pepperdine Law Review, Vol. 31, No. 33, 2004 138 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2004 Lester Brickman Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Comment from H. J. BOSWORTH, (4/11/2018, 10:56 AM)

So instead of attempting to find the source of the lead poisoning, the city is suing the paint companies. And SW is asking just how may of the people involved have water service pipes that are made entirely of lead. We have lead service pipes here in NOLA and in probably every older city in the USA!!

Comment from Jesse Williams, (4/11/2018, 2:25 PM)

The issue of lead poisoning with regard to children is still a hot topic in Kansas City as well. The focus is also on paint, particularly, lead dust. The KC STAR paper published an article 2 years ago and they may have mentioned lead poisoning thru the water supply just briefly. The reason I gather is because thats what the State and or the City wanted to have published. Note the attachment Lead poisoning problems had faded from the news until city leaders in Flint, Mich., switched the water supply and caused a lead poisoning crisis in 2014. But Flint is only the tip of the iceberg, health advocates say. Lead paint poses a bigger threat in many cities, including Kansas City, where some neighborhoods have even higher poisoning rates. I'm just wondering how did that incident happen in Flint, whereby the lead levels got worse after changing the supply lines?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/12/2018, 8:16 AM)

Jesse - in Flint, the original water supply was very non-corrosive, it actually had a slight tendency to deposit lime scale. This isolated the lead from actual contact with the water. The new water supply was much more corrosive - and the State appointed water manager didn't properly treat the water to prevent corrosion. The corrosive water stripped off the existing lime scale in the pipes and attacked the metal, freeing up large amounts of lead into the water.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/12/2018, 9:09 AM)

Okay, so I went and looked up Milwaukee's water quality testing - to see the most relevant, scroll way down to where they tested water from 50 homes with lead pipes ("Note 2"). My understanding is that the "action level" for lead is 15 ppb, also written as .015 ppm or .015 mg/L. I REALLY don't like how the information is presented - they don't say how many are above the action level. The "90th percentile" results are about half the action level. By contrast, Flint's "90th percentile" results were about double the action level.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (4/12/2018, 11:41 AM)

A few points here (And please forgive me....I'm in a bit of a mood this morning). 1) Tom Bright: though I agree that there is a fair bit of hype going into asbestos lawsuits (they are often public spectacles, like lead paint cases), I wouldn't dismiss "victims" who aren't sick yet. The latency period from exposure can be very long (20+ years, just like with silicosis) and my OHS magazine's obituary pages are almost entirely filled with victims of asbestos exposure related occupational illnesses. It is the #1 occupational illness killer out there. 2) Tom Schwerdt: The chemistry in Flint is a little more complex than you've presented. "Corrosive" is often used as a synonym to "caustic" or having high pH. Flint's went from a pH of ~8 down to 7.3....still on the basic or "corrosive" side of neutral and still mildly corrosive, but less caustic / corrosive than it was. BUT; combined with dissolved oxygen, dissolved chlorine (both a good thing) and the elimination of a corrosion inhibitor (not a good thing, apparently done to save money), the change in chemistry was no longer favorable to maintain or build lime deposits. This type of water chemistry can be favorable if you don't have lead pipes (leads to less issues with pipe capacities diminishing over time and fewer lime deposits on anything handling the water), but it can be quite bad if you have lead pipes. The water itself was less corrosive, but it was also less protective against corrosion. It's a subtle difference but, as Flint found out, a critical one. I'll put my soap-box away now (and again, pardon my mood this morning).

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/16/2018, 9:16 AM)

Michael, I am unfamiliar with your definition of "corrosive" - typically corrosion refers to the degradation or removal of material, not the deposition of material as you normally have with higher pH in water supplies.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (4/16/2018, 12:08 PM)

Sorry Tom....I wasn't clear and I was in a mood that day. Water chemistry terms...basic / corrosive / caustic (pH > 7) vs. acidic (pH <7). Corrosion (removal / degradation of material) can happen in both acidic and basic / caustic / corrosive water environments, but the deposition of lime in pipes only happens in higher pH (more basic / caustic / corrosive) settings. Corrosive or caustic water (as in higher pH...talking only about the water itself) can actually be protective against corrosion (degradation) as it can encourage protective lime deposits in pipes. It wasn't so much that the water itself became more corrosive in Flint, but rather the combination of less basic / corrosive / caustic water (itself) and the decision to not add corrosion inhibitors to prevent dissolved oxygen and much higher dissolved chlorides (Flint River vs. water from the great lakes) from attacking the lead (corroding) pipes when the lime deposits dissolved that combined to create a nightmare situation. One allowed the protective coating of lime to dissolve back into the water (the less corrosive / caustic / basic water), while the other (no corrosion inhibitors) allowed for the degradation of the pipes themselves (reacting lead into the water itself). There is a subtle difference between the two...but it is very easy for it to get lost. Again, I was in a mood and got out my soap box (sorry about that), so hopefully this will better explain what I was getting my panties twisted over.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/17/2018, 8:32 AM)

No worries, Michael. Different industries have different uses of terminology. Another example: Cement chemist notation makes sense to them, but contradicts what the rest of the wider world uses. For example "C" would notate carbon for almost anyone. For a cement chemist, "C" means Calcium Oxide. "S" doesn't mean Sulfur, it means Silicon Dioxide. Et cetera.

Comment from Fred Salome, (4/17/2018, 9:10 AM)

SO we began with lead paint, which is well documented to cause childhood lead poisoning, and we end up arguing about the terminology of cement chemistry. Wake up and acknowledge that the paint industry does not now and never has accepted responsibility for the harm its products can cause. Why is it so hard to act like grown-ups and accept the truth. Lead in paint was a huge mistake, and any amount of deflection to lead in water pipes and lead in petrol (both social catastrophies) won't change the fact that paint goes into houses and eventually breaks down. Exposure follows. Epidimiology provides the data. Accept it!

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (4/17/2018, 11:39 AM)

Fred, hindsight is 20/20...for a long time, substances like lead and asbestos were legal products with properties that made them *desirable* to both industry and the public. Yes, sure, the conversation here evolved (to include another big lead story), but that's human nature, not the paint company's fault. I don't blame the paint companies for not wanting to be held accountable for all the lead exposure when there may be other sources. I don't blame them for wanting to limit their liability for product sold when it was legal and the health concerns were not known (as done for other lead paint lawsuits). I also won't blame owners of lead pipe infrastructure for not wanting to be implicated (and hence have a fiscal responsibility) in these lead lawsuits too. The reason, Fred, that you do not have paint companies accepting total responsibility (when they are not the only ones responsible) is that the resulting lawsuits would bankrupt the companies (decimating the current coatings industry and eliminating any funds they might contribute toward clean ups in the process).

Comment from Paul Troemner, (4/18/2018, 8:21 AM)

We breathe air, we drink water, but we don't and children don't eat paint, at least not the vast majority. When lead compounds in gasoline and diesel were legislated out and removed from the fuel, childhood lead levels from exhaust dropped tremendously. The lead levels in children, even with these lead-paint removal techniques and/or isolation requirements in place, are still showing up in too high of numbers and percentages. The fact is that lead paint is not the only potential source of childhood lead poisoning. We may learn through studies that the primary culprit still out there is household lead pipes and main-to-house lead piping leaching lead into the water at or near end-point receptions. Our water supplies typically have varying levels of pH, lime, and water quality. You can lead test water at the water plants all you want, but that will not indicate the true lead content at the umpteen reception points throughout the communities. Laying all lead-poisoning blame on paint manufacturers is unjust and unfounded.

Comment from Fred Salome, (4/19/2018, 8:41 PM)

If I may quote from David E Jacobs, writing in ASTM STP 126, June 1995, lead paint as a cause of childhood lead poisoning has been known since the turn of the 19th century, and the International Labour Organisation prepared a ban on white lead in the 1920's which was ratified by virtually every sane nation on the planet, USA and Australia (yes, that's me) excepted. The US National Paint, Oil and Varnish Association vehemently opposed it. SO the paint industry was not just following legal and social precedent, it was actually active in formulating these polices, knowing full well the risks they were creating. And I do hold them responsible, for this and for other issues around the safety of their products.

Comment from Paul Troemner, (4/23/2018, 9:17 AM)

STP 1226 lays significant blame on lead dust for lead contamination, but makes no differentiation between the lead dust from lead-based paint vs. the lead dust from exhaust and/or industrial air pollution. Many inner city sites for decades were subject to lead dust from vehicle exhaust and industrial air pollution precipitate until lead compounds were removed from fuel and air quality laws were instituted and followed. My point is that lead-based paint is NOT the only childhood lead poisoning vector.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/23/2018, 9:18 AM)

The paint industry certainly has culpability for lead poisoning, especially of children. Coal power plants and the diesel vehicle manufacturers have most of the culpability for killing thousands of Americans every year from particulate pollution (plus all the low birthrate preemies, asthma, hypertension, etc associated with the particulate pollution) - lots of blame to go around, and industry keeps getting away with it. Personal culpability for corporate executives is something to consider for blatant cases like these.

Comment from Paul Troemner, (4/23/2018, 9:20 AM)

It appears in one of the sections, they do attempt to differentiate the source of the dust through literature review.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (4/24/2018, 5:44 PM)

Fred, you are STP 126 they identify lead paint as A cause...not THE cause. Lots of potential sources to go around, as others have mentioned. Do the paint companies have a responsibility...yes... but theirs is not the sole responsibility.

Comment from Fred Salome, (4/27/2018, 1:23 AM)

I totally agree that lead has been used in many applications where it should not have been, and has cast a lasting shadow over the health of our communities that all of us need to now deal with, paint companies included. But we should learn from this. To date we know that pigments based on lead, chromate, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and selenium are bad for people's health. So why would we think the pigments based on bismuth, vanadium, titanium, antimony, molybdenum and cobalt should be safe? All are marketed to and used by the paint companies. The problem is that paint ends up almost anywhere, without any real long-term monitoring. As it weathers or is abraded/worn/chipped/drilled these things get released into our living or work environments. And they last a long time as metals do not biodegrade. Are we still saying Caveat Emptor?

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (5/1/2018, 2:31 PM)

Fred, risk is everywhere. How much you are willing to accept and how much culpability for legal products proven harmful later are questions for debate. Sure, metal based pigments can be "bad", but there are few alternatives currently. Nanoparticles show some promise, but there are also concerns regarding their long-term health effects., For that matter, even just enjoying a fire, BBQ or cooking are potentially dangerous (heating of organic matter produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons....many of which are known human carcinogens) and wireless signals (be it WiFi or cellular) and EM fields have health impacts too. I think most of us try to reduce the risks, but shy of being a "bubble boy", there are limits to how far we can currently go in reducing them. The question then becomes: What are you willing to accept for risk? If lead paint in your home is bad, then have you tested for radon yet?

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