I don’t think it is a stretch to say that paint companies intentionally poisoned children. They knew as early as 1912 that lead paint caused brain damage in babies and children, yet through the Mad Men years, they marketed this paint specifically for use in nurseries, and directed advertisements at babies and children. As we’ve noted before, most of these companies still exist in some form and continue to profit from their past misdeeds.
Sally, Bobby and baby Gene Draper may not epitomize the demographic of kids who ate a lot of lead-based paint chips back in the day, although it’s doubtful their parents would have cared much given their support for playthings like plastic dry-cleaning bags (as long as the dry clearing was safe!). But also, in the 1950s and 1960s, many families had no idea that lead paint did this to children - thanks to a massive paint industry cover-up.
In fact, it took another decade for the U.S. to finally ban lead paint for residential use in 1978. After that, no child should have been knowingly exposed to it – especially by a medical facility of all things. We expect that to be mostly true, except if you were a poor child in Baltimore, apparently.
As reported today in the New York Times, a class action was filed yesterday against the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore,
[A]ccusing it of knowingly exposing black children as young as a year old to lead poisoning in the 1990s as part of a study exploring the hazards of lead paint. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that more than 100 children [ages 12 months to 5 years] were endangered by high levels of lead dust in their homes despite assurances from the Kennedy Krieger Institute that the houses were “lead safe.”
“Children were enticed into living in lead-tainted housing and subjected to a research program which intentionally exposed them to lead poisoning in order for the extent of the contamination of these children’s blood to be used by scientific researchers to assess the success of lead paint or lead dust abatement measures,” said the suit, filed in state court in Baltimore. “Nothing about the research was designed to treat the subject children for lead poisoning.”
Kennedy Krieger Institute, by the way, says that the research, started in 1993 and lasting 6 years, “was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled.”
The suit says, “The hospital used these children as known guinea pigs in these contaminated houses to complete this study … For this study, KKI selected children and their parents who were predominantly from a lower economic strata and minorities." Moreover, this isn't the first lawsuit connected to this shameful research experiment.
Earlier lawsuits were heard by the Court of Appeals, which ruled that the legal actions could go forward. In its 2001 decision, the court found the researchers failed to warn families that their children faced a health risk if they continued to live in the homes. The court also found that the researchers did not inform the families of the youngsters' elevated blood-lead levels in a timely manner. Some of the cases were settled confidentially.
Unfortunately, the paint industry’s sordid past isn’t grounds for justice for every family. In Mississippi last week, the Supreme Court overturned a $7 million jury verdict “against the Sherwin-Williams Co., which had argued it was not liable for the illnesses of a boy who might have eaten lead-contaminated paint chips.”