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Summary

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is an environmental health threat for many American children. Lead itself is a toxic, non-biodegradable, heavy metal once commonly found in household products such as paint, batteries, solder, pottery and gasoline.  Over time, it accumulates in soft tissue and bone. Please consider a product liability attorney if your loved one has fallen ill as a result.

Children are at the highest risk for lead poisoning because their bodies absorb 50 percent of the lead they consume, while adult bodies absorb only 10 percent.

At very high levels, lead in the bodies of children causes brain swelling, convulsions, coma and death. Even at low levels lead is associated with a lower IQ, attention deficit (ADHD and ADD), hyperactive and antisocial behavior. It is also being studied for its possible link to autism.

Lead poisoning can affect almost every organ in the human body. Scientists have determined it is especially harmful to young children and fetuses during the developmental phases because a child’s brain is highly susceptible to toxins.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that lead paint -- ingested through either paint chips or lead contaminated dust -- is the number one source of lead poisoning for children. As many as 400,000 children in the United States may be affected with lead poisoning.

In 1978, the U.S. Congress outlawed the use of lead in paint -- including paint used on toys and other children’s products as well as house paint. However, layers of old lead-based paint still remains in houses and apartments constructed before the ban went into effect. Lead poisoning can occur when these older structures are remodeled and the disturbed paint creates a toxic dust.

According to a study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), about 74% of U.S. dwellings built before 1980 still contain lead-based paint.

Jurisdictions in many states have a long statute of limitations for lead paint lawsuits filed by children. Even if a child contracted lead poisoning as long as 20 years ago, the attorney representing him/her may still be able to file a lawsuit on their behalf.  Lead-based paint is only one of several sources of lead poisoning in children.

Recently, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) alerted the public to raised levels of lead in infant goods manufactured from vinyl plastic. Some of the products uncovered were vinyl lunchboxes, bibs, a pacifier carrying case, a breast pump carrier and a cooler for breast milk. The companies alleged to have produced these lead-laden products are: Medela, RC2, Playtex and Skip Hop.

 

It is also possible for drinking water to become contaminated when it flows through old lead pipes, as well as for food to absorb lead when it is served on lead-glazed ceramic dishes.

Parents who use lead-based materials in their jobs or hobbies can inadvertently expose their children to lead if they bring the dust home on their shoes or clothing.

Because of recent environmental laws which reduce our exposure to lead, the number of young children affected by lead poisoning has dropped 85 percent in the last 20 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Lead continues to be found in manufacturing and in items imported to this country, however.

  In 2007 alone, there were over 16-million product recalls for lead contamination.  

Common Lead Contaminate Sources

Paint: In 1978, the U.S. government banned lead paint for home use. However, homes built before that time most likely contain lead paint on the walls. Painted toys and furniture made before 1978 may also contain lead-based paint. Lead paint becomes dangerous when it chips, turns into dust or works its way into the soil.
  • Dust: Lead dust is the most common way people are exposed to lead. Inside the home, lead dust is created when old paint is scraped, sanded, or disturbed during remodeling. Young children are exposed to lead when they put something with lead dust on it into their mouths.
  • Soil: Before 1978, companies used to add lead to gasoline. When the gas vapor escaped from the exhaust, it fell to the ground near the roadways. As a result, homes near busy streets and intersections may have high levels of lead in the soil.
  • Factories: Lead is still used in metal smelting, battery manufacturing and other factory use. Once the lead mixes with the soil close to the factory, it can be stirred up in the wind, landing in other people's yards.
  • Drinking Water: Lead enters the drinking water when the lead pipes in older houses corrode and the lead leaches into the plumbing system. In 1986, Congress banned the use of lead solder containing greater than 0.2% lead, and restricted the lead content of faucets, pipes and other plumbing materials to 8.0%.
  • Vinyl: The Center for Environmental Health has gone after makers and retailers of soft vinyl products -- such as lunch boxes, baby bibs, rubber ducks and pacifiers -- that can expose children to harmful levels of lead.
  • Lead foil capsules on Wine Bottles: In 1996, the FDA banned these capsules after a study found that 3 to 4 percent of wines became  contaminated during pouring. U.S. winemakers stopped using lead foils before the ban, but older bottles with the foils may still be around.
  • Imported candies or foods, such as chili or tamarind from Mexico, can contain lead, as can foil wrappers, painted pottery and certain ethnic foods.
  • The workplace and hobbies: A number of jobs -- from painting to construction, to plumbing to welding to car repair -- can expose workers to lead, which is then brought home on clothes, shoes, hair or skin. Hobbies such as pottery, stained glass, fish sinkers and furniture refinishing can do the same.
  • Imported food, sealed in cans with lead solder: In 1995, the U.S. banned the use of lead solder on cans -- but solder can still be found on cans made in other countries. Foods that are acidic cause lead to leach into the food faster.
  • Lead-glazed ceramics, china, leaded crystal glassware: Lead may get into foods or liquids that have been stored in ceramics, pottery, china or crystal with lead in it. Lead-glazed dishes usually come from other countries.
  • Metal jewelry: Lead has been found in inexpensive children’s jewelry, metal amulets and costume jewelry.
  • Mini-blinds: Some non-glossy, vinyl mini-blinds from other countries contain lead.
  • Folk medicines: Some folk medicines imported from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico contain lead. Ayurveda -- a traditional form of medicine practiced in India and other East-Asian countries -- also uses medications that may have lead. Some examples are Greta and Azarcon (used to treat upset stomach) and Pay-loo-ah (a red powder used to treat a rash or a fever).
  • Cosmetics: Cosmetics such as Kohl (used around the eyes) powders, deodorants, etc., have been found to contain lead.
  • Other: Among the other sources of lead are batteries, car and truck radiators and some colors of ink. A New Jersey consumer watchdog group has also reported finding lead in artificial turf.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in children

 Lead poisoning symptoms in children can include fatigue, crankiness and stomach aches. But overt signs are difficult to diagnose. A blood lead test is the only sure way to tell.

All children six months to six years should be screened regularly for lead. Children should be tested by their first birthday and again when they're two. Often preschool and child care programs will look for proof that a child has been tested for lead.

For children who test positive for lead, sometimes simple changes in diet and frequent hand-washing are sufficient. Children with very high blood lead levels may need drugs to help the body get rid of the lead. In any case, the source of the lead has to be found and the problem corrected before the child can improve.

Who Can Sue

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from lead poisoning, a medical test can be performed to measure the level of lead in the blood. People can experience adverse effects of lead poisoning at a 10mcg/dl blood lead concentration.

Individuals who have suffered lead poisoning as a result of another person's negligence can sue. Paint and oil manufacturers can be charged in lead paint poisoning lawsuits; landlords and/or contractors can be held responsible for high levels of lead within the home.The Residential Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, better known as Title X, requires that landlords of buildings that were built before 1978 provide tenants with the EPA handout disclosing the dangers of lead based paint. If a landlord fails to meet the requirements of Title X, he/she can be charged $10,000 per violation. Landlords may also be required to pay three times what a tenant suffers in damages in lead poisoning lawsuits. Public housing may also be subject to these same regulations.

The law in many states allows attorneys representing children to file lead paint lawsuits even past the time they are legally considered adults.

If you plan to file a lead poisoning lawsuit, it is vitally important that the attorney you select have previous experience in handling lead based paint claims. This is because only attorneys experienced in this area of the law will recognize and know how to fight the objections raised by landlords, contractors and any others defending these cases.

Interesting Facts

Lead poisoning is not new; it was documented in the citizens of ancient Rome, Greece and China.

According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of childhood lead poisoning remains disproportionately high for select groups such the poor, non-Hispanic black, Mexican Americans and children living in large metropolitan areas or older housing.

In 2007, the CDC reported that the number of American children, aged one to five, with lead levels high enough to damage their health had dropped to 2%.

Calcium and iron deficiencies, a high fat diet or eating on an empty stomach increases lead absorption in both children and adults.

  Children exposed to lead may have no symptoms, or may report vague symptoms, including headache, irritability or abdominal pain.

While low lead levels may result in learning or behavioral problems in a child, high levels of lead exposure are associated with anemia and changes in kidney and central nervous system function that may, at extreme exposures, include seizures, coma and death.

In 2007, a leading environmental group announced that certain vinyl baby bibs made in China and sold at Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores in California had lead in them.

Antique ceramic ware may contain high levels of lead. Consumers who are suspicious of their hand-painted ceramic ware can test for lead by using a lead home test kit from a hardware store. Avoid using any ceramics – especially cups, mugs or pitchers -- if the glaze develops a chalky gray residue after washing.  

The number of products recalled for excessive lead in 2007, is reported to be 16.2 million. Among the lead-tainted recalls were: sunglasses, Curious George dolls, pencil pouches distributed in schools and bracelets designed for use in school fundraisers. Most lead-tainted recalls were cheap toys, jewelry, model cars and action figures.

Lead poisoning is difficult to diagnose without testing, as symptoms of lead poisoning may be confused with other illnesses, including the flu. Symptoms in children may include appetite loss, weight loss, stomach pain, vomiting, constipation, anemia, headaches, aggressiveness, and sluggishness. Long term recognized damage from lead exposure is:
  • kidney damage
  • hearing loss
  • growth problems
  • anemia
  • behavior problems
Potential Recovery
  • $12 million: DuPont Corporation -- the manufacturers of lead-based paints -- agreed to settle this 2006, landmark case with the state of Rhode Island by contributing this significant amount to a lead poisoning prevention fund. The  settlement was viewed not only as an admission of DuPont’s responsibility but also their willingness to address the problems they caused.
  • $1-million: Reebok -- the athletic shoe company agreed to pay this civil violation of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), after a 4-year-old Minneapolis boy swallowed one of their lead-tainted giveaway bracelets and died from lead poisoning.  In 2006, Reebok announced a recall of the 300,000 lead-composite bracelets it had earlier touted as free gifts with the purchase of their children's footwear.
  • $5.7 million: In 2008, a Baltimore jury awarded this settlement to a 24-year-old man who was exposed to lead paint as a child while living in public housing. During the trial it was revealed that the man reads and spells at first-grade level as a result of lead poisoning.
  • $1.75-million: A Maryland jury awarded this amount to a 7-year-old girl who was exposed to lead paint in her home from birth through her third birthday.
  • $700,000: A 6-year-old-Bronx child who suffered lead poisoning while a resident of a NYC Housing Authority project was awarded this amount as compensation. The money was placed in a special needs trust to exclusively further the child’s future health and education.
  • $615,000: This amount was ordered set aside for two Brooklyn girls who suffered lead poisoning while living in a Brooklyn apartment.
  • $90,000: This was awarded to a Manhattan girl who suffered lead poisoning while living in a NYC apartment with her parents.
  • $3.5-million: A Bronx jury awarded this figure to a 12-year-old girl left brain-damaged from lead paint in her family home. The girl’s attorney traced her lead poisoning to an apartment building she lived in for five years from the time she was an infant up to age five.
  • $2.3-million: A Baltimore jury awarded this in damages to a girl who achieved success in school despite suffering lead poisoning from her childhood home. The girl who tested at a normal IQ had elevated lead amounts in her internal organs, brain and bones, resulting in mental deficits, learning disabilities, and behavioral and emotional problems. According to her lawyer, she would have been a smarter child without the lead poisoning.
News
  • CPSC Warns About Worn Vinyl Baby Bibs
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Childhood Lead Poisoning
  • National Lead Information Center
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lead in Paint, Dust & Soil
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Healthy Homes & Lead Hazard Control
  • Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning / Alliance for Healthy Homes  (Protecting Children from Lead and Other Environmental Health Hazards)
  • American Academy of Pediatrics  (search for the key words "lead paint")
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