PROVIDENCE -- Rhode Island has exaggerated the problems caused by lead-based paint and wrongly targeted the companies for what the state calls a public nuisance, lawyers for paint companies said yesterday.
Mickey Pohl, a lawyer for
The state contends that tens of thousands of children in Rhode Island have been poisoned by lead paint in the past decade and that hundreds of thousands of homes may be contaminated. It says the lead paint industry has created a public nuisance and should help pay to clean it up.
But Pohl disputed those assertions, saying, ''There are not hundreds of thousands of properties out there that need to be addressed by a statewide declaration of a public nuisance."
The state plans to call its first witness today. The other companies sued are Atlantic Richfield Co.,
Lead paint was banned for use in homes by the federal government in 1978, but Rhode Island, like much of the Northeast, has many homes that still contain lead paint. Children who eat or breathe flaking paint or dust could suffer brain damage, behavioral disorders, and even death, studies have shown.
But Michael Nilan, a lawyer for Millennium Holdings, said that the average blood-lead level for children in Rhode Island is the lowest it has been in history and that lead exposure comes from multiple sources -- not just paint.
Of the tens of thousands of Rhode Island children screened, the overwhelming majority did not have elevated blood-lead levels, Nilan said.
The fewer than 200 children with significantly high levels live in poorly maintained properties where they face harmful lead exposure, he said. Defense lawyers say routine building maintenance can minimize the risk of lead poisoning.
''The Department of Health knows where the worst properties are," Nilan said, adding that the state needs better enforcement of its lead paint laws.
Pohl urged jurors to conduct a ''calm, thorough, reasoned inquiry" and said the evidence was more complicated than described by the state.
The lawsuit was first filed in 1999 under then-Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. It stalled in 2002 as the case ended with a hung jury after seven weeks of testimony and four days of deliberations.