Providence – The first of its kind lawsuit brought by the State of Rhode Island against former manufacturers of lead paint was headed to the jury Thursday. Attorneys on both sides completed closing arguments on Wednesday.
Jurors will be told to answer yes or no to this question: Does the presence of lead pigment in paint and coatings in homes, schools, hospitals and public buildings throughout the state constitute a public nuisance?
Both sides agree lead poisoning is a serious problem in Rhode Island. Some thousands of children each year are found with lead in their blood.
Thirteen witnesses have taken the stand in a trial that has lasted seven weeks. The state called a battery of doctors and medical experts to describe the hazards that lead paint poses to children.
The defense focused on witnesses who say intact lead paint does not pose a threat to children.
Lawyers for the lead-paint industry argue Rhode Island's lead-poisoning problem can be solved with existing laws and regulations. Attorney John Tarantino said only a small percentage of the three hundred thousand homes in Rhode Island with lead paint pose a threat. That threat, he told jurors, comes from run-down and poorly maintained properties.
"That's what we have to target, that's what we have to focus on, the bad, high-risk properties. That's what our law is allowing us to do, if we let it to work. It was
passed over four months ago," said Tarantino.
The state has portrayed lead paint in those three hundred thousand homes as a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. State lawyers also say the harm to children from lead poisoning is a burden that no Rhode Island resident should have to bear.
"Children have brain damage as a result of exposure to lead. They have an inability to read. They have an inability to sit still in class, to pay attention. And as a result,
they can't graduate from high school, they can't get a job, and that's affecting all of us."
If the jury answers yes to the public nuisance question, another trial would decide whether paint companies caused that problem, and if so, how much they have to pay to alleviate it.