Lead contained in paint and gasoline is banned in the U.S., but it persists in the environment in house dust and paint chips, particularly in poorer neighborhoods. Lead-based paints were commonly used in the 1950s and ’60s. According to the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, 30 million U.S. homes built before 1960 still have lead in them. In 1978, Congress banned the use of lead paints.
Paint makers have faced a number of lawsuits over lead paint since 1989. Paint companies that produced lead-based paint in the past include Benjamin Moore & Co., Sherwin-Williams Co., Atlantic Richfield Co., NL Industries Inc., E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., and Glidden Co. Defendants in such cases have banded together to defend suits against the industry. In response to lawsuits and other accusations, paint manufacturers have argued that, unlike tobacco companies, they never deceived anyone. The industry says it funded the research into the dangers of lead paint and then, after the health hazard was proven, voluntarily pulled lead paint off the market nearly 50 years ago. Of the lawsuits that have been resolved, the former manufacturers have not lost or settled a single case. To date manufacturer have had significant success avoiding liability, however, increased scrutiny may make it possible for you to recover. Suits against landlords, however, have been more successful. Landlords who do not maintain their properties by removing lead-based paint, or fail to cover it with a new coat of lead-free paint or wallpaper can be held liable.
States have now primarily taken the lead in lead paint litigation against former lead-based paint manufacturers. Rhode Island was the first state to file a lawsuit holding the paint companies responsible for creating hazards that poison thousands of children. The suit is being closely watched by the industry and by many other states looking for money to help clean up housing that creates hazards due to lead.
Elemental lead is a naturally occurring, bluish-gray metal found in small amounts in rock and soils. Lead has no distinctive taste or smell. Lead and lead compounds are used in storage batteries, ammunition, metal products (solder and pipes), roofing, gasoline, and devices to shield people from x-rays, among many other products. Because of health concerns, lead has been banned from gasoline, ceramic products, paints for residential use, and solder used on food cans. Click on Frequently Asked Questions: Lead, to learn more about this issue.
Industrially, lead and lead-contaminated dusts are released into the environment from the burning of fossil fuels or waste. Workplace exposures come mostly from dusty environments. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust from this type of paint are the primary sources of lead exposure within the home. Preventing adverse health effects to children resulting from lead exposure remains a major public health effort. Poisoning occurs from swallowing lead (i.e. lead paint chips) or from breathing lead paint dust. Even small amounts of chipped lead paint or lead dust can be dangerous to children. Children face the great risks because their growing bodies absorb lead more easily than adult bodies do. In the United States about 900,000 children ages 1 to 5 have an above normal blood-lead level.
If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, and headaches. Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties in pregnancy, other reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorder, memory and concentration problems, and muscle-joint pain.
While there are many sources of lead in the human environment, lead-based paint hazards in residential housing are considered the primary source of lead exposure. In 1978 the federal government banned the use of lead-base paint. If you live in a home or building built before 1978, however, it is very possible that lead paint was used. Peeling paint is a clear signal that lead paint may have been used in your home.