Rhode Island Supreme Court Overturns Landmark Decision against Lead Pigment
Manufacturers; Alliance Blasts Decision as Short-Sighted, Harmful to Children
The lead poisoning prevention community is enormously disappointed
with the decision issued July 1 by the Rhode Island Supreme Court that reversed
a jury 's decision holding three former lead pigment makers liable for creating
a public nuisance through the sale and promotion of lead-based paint. It is
especially painful to see a reversal in the first case where a state sued the
pigment makers. Justice was not served for the tens of thousands of Rhode Island
children who have been irreversibly harmed by lead in recent years.
The paint companies may not have been found legally responsible
under the technical definitions of public nuisance, but this trial highlighted
the undisputable moral failings of the industry. For decades, the companies
added a known toxin to a household product while duplicitously marketing its
safety and virtues.
The Alliance for Healthy Homes assures readers and other
allies that it stands with Rhode Island lead poisoning prevention advocates
who, for many years, worked so hard to encourage and support the State's lawsuit.
The Alliance also expresses deep gratitude for the perseverance and hard work
of the Rhode Island Attorney General's office and private counsel that assisted
with the case.
There remain pending legal cases in Ohio and California
where lead pigment makers could still be held accountable for their harmful
actions, and we urge lead poisoning prevention advocates and governments to
continue to champion these cases. If these cases do not succeed, taxpayers and
private property owners will continue to bear the costs of dealing with the
toxic legacy that these companies created.
No matter the outcome of this case and any future cases,
the Alliance also calls on the companies responsible for manufacturing and falsely
promoting lead-based paint as “safe” to finally step up to the plate
and voluntarily provide the monetary resources necessary for state and local
governments and private property owners to ensure that all housing in America
Finally, the Alliance urges advocates to redouble efforts
in the "ground war" against lead poisoning. Despite this month’s
unfortunate setback, we all must continue working to safeguard our children
from lead exposure. We must continue fighting for smarter and stronger prevention-oriented
policies at the state and local levels and demanding greater funding for prevention
programs, particularly pending federal appropriations for HUD, CDC, and EPA
lead poisoning prevention programs.
Link Childhood Lead Exposure to Criminal Behavior Later in Life and Decreased
Two studies examining the life-long effects of lead exposure
in children have helped confirm a link between lead and criminal behavior and
dramatically demonstrated permanent brain damage likely a result of lead exposure.
The studies, conducted in Cincinnati, tested children’s
lead exposure before birth and during the first seven years of life. Researchers
then followed up with the individuals who took part in the study, measuring
brain size and examining arrest records when those children reached adulthood.
Although previous studies have pointed to an association
between lead exposure and violent or anti-social behavior, the rigorous and
prospective design of the Cincinnati study provides stronger evidence. The researchers
found evidence that increases in both prenatal blood lead levels and the blood
lead level at age six were statistically associated with increases in the number
of arrests later in life. Average childhood lead level, as well as the lead
level at age six, were associated with an increased likelihood of arrests for
In the brain volume study, researchers helped explain the
epidemiological evidence of lead’s impact by using MRI technology to estimate
the actual volume of different areas of the brain. Adults who had higher lead
levels as children were found to have less gray matter, particularly in areas
of the brain associated with mood regulation and decision making. The effect
was substantially greater in males than in females, suggesting that lead poisoning
may have more severe impacts for boys than girls.
Advocates and experts alike say that the studies reinforce
the fact that there is no “safe” level of lead exposure. They urge
local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as private property owners,
to continue to do whatever they can to control and eliminate lead hazards in
NRDC, and Sierra Club Sue EPA over Air Freshener Health and Safety Issues
The federal government needs to inform consumers about
the chemical ingredients found in household air fresheners and the potential
risks those chemicals pose to human health, according to a lawsuit filed in
mid-June by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, and the
Alliance for Healthy Homes. The lawsuit follows a 2007 NRDC analysis of more
than a dozen common household air fresheners, which found that most contained
chemicals called phthalates that may affect hormones and reproductive development,
particularly in infants. Air fresheners may also contain other chemicals linked
to lung irritation, asthma attacks, and increased rates of cancer.
The lawsuit, filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), would require the government to mandate that manufacturers disclose
the results of safety assessments and properly label their products with full
ingredient lists. Since the release of NRDC’s 2007 air freshener report,
Clearing the Air, this information is still not available to the public.
Environmental and Public
Health Groups Support Kid-Safe Chemicals Act
A wide variety of environmental and public health organizations
signaled support in late May for the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act of 2008 (H.R. 6100;
S. 3040). The bill is designed to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act
to shift the burden to chemical manufacturers and the U.S. EPA to show that
chemicals currently on the market, as well as substances proposed for introduction,
do not pose significant risks to children’s health.
Specifically, the legislation would:
Require that industrial chemicals be safe for infants,
children, and other vulnerable groups;
Require that new chemicals be safety tested before they
Require chemical manufacturers to test and prove that
the 62,000 chemicals already on the market that have never been tested are
safe in order for them to remain in commerce;
Require EPA to review “priority” chemicals,
those which are found in people, on an expedited schedule;
Require regular biomonitoring to determine what chemicals
are in people’s bodies and in what amounts;
Require regular updates of health and safety data and
provide EPA with clear authority to request additional information and tests;
Provide incentives for manufacturers to further reduce
Require EPA to promote safer alternatives and alternatives
to animal testing;
Protect state and local rights to pass stricter chemical
testing and safety laws and regulations; and
Require that all chemical testing results and safety
hazard information be publicly available, thereby preserving the American
public’s environmental right to know.
The Alliance is among the organizations that have signed
on to support the bill. It was introduced by Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) and Sen.
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), George
Miller (D-CA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Hillary
Clinton (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Sheldon Whitehouse
For more information on the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, including
links to fact sheets, bill text and status, and the list of organizations that
are supporting the legislation, visit www.ewg.org/kidsafe.
Further information on your environmental right to know is available at www.ombwatch.org/article/archive/97.
NCHH Continue to Push for Model Code Changes
The Alliance and the National Center for Healthy Housing
submitted six proposed modifications to their previously submitted changes to
the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). The new modified
proposals are designed to address concerns raised by the Committee at the International
Code Council’s (ICC) hearing on code change proposals last February. The
six proposals include:
PM4 – Revised proposal for requiring repair of
exterior deteriorated paint in pre-1978 buildings using lead-safe work practices
as defined by EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule.
PM6 – Revised proposal for requiring repair of
interior deteriorated paint in pre-1978 buildings using lead-safe work practices
as defined by EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule and requiring
correction of underlying sources of moisture problems causing paint failure.
PM3 – Revised proposal to change the definition
of extermination, renaming the requirement “pest elimination,”
eliminating references to poison spraying and fumigation, and adding references
to all rodents and water sources.
PM14 – Revised proposal to maintain maximum water
temperature in showers and tubs at 120°F
PM7 – Revised proposal to require a carbon monoxide
alarm where there is an attached garage or a fuel burning furnace, water heater,
PM14 – Revised proposal to require that bathrooms
in dwellings other than single-family units have a smooth, hard, nonabsorbent
surface to permit the floor to be easily kept clean and sanitary. Non-permanent
bathroom mats would be allowed.
The organizations also support a revised proposal by ICC’s
Hazard Abatement in Existing Buildings Committee to establish a new Health and
Sanitation Chapter in the IPMC. It would incorporate health standards for asbestos,
carbon monoxide, radon, lead, potable water, and arsenic-treated lumber in the
property maintenance code.
ICC’s full assembly will
consider the proposals at its meeting in Minneapolis, which is being held Sept.
19-23. A two-thirds majority vote of the government officials eligible to vote
is needed for a proposal to be added to the code.
Illnesses May Plague Children Who Lived in “Katrina Trailers”
Since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast nearly three
years ago, environmental organizations and scientists have discovered and documented
a variety of health threats to those who returned home to New Orleans and coastal
areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. Ranging from toxic chemicals in sludge to
rampant mold growth in homes damaged by flooding, the hazards have also included
the high levels of formaldehyde in the “Katrina trailers” that the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided to survivors as “temporary”
Evidence is emerging that life in the trailers has been
especially hard on children. Classified as a vulnerable population by environmental
health scientists, children often suffer more severe effects from exposure to
health hazards because, pound for pound, they breathe more air, drink more water,
and eat more food than their adult counterparts. This appears to be the case,
too, for children exposed to formaldehyde in FEMA housing.
Doctors are worried that tens of thousands of children
exposed to the high concentrations of formaldehyde found in many of the trailers
will suffer lifelong illnesses such as frequent upper respiratory infections
and severe asthma. Already, dozens of children who lived in the trailers have
developed asthma or have seen their asthma worsen. Medical professionals cannot
yet conclusively tie their symptoms to time spent in the trailers, though most
suspect formaldehyde exposure to be the cause. Researchers also say that these
children are likely at a higher risk of developing certain cancers in the next
10 to 15 years.
Despite the risks of formaldehyde exposure, a known respiratory
irritant and carcinogen, more than 22,000 Katrina trailers are still in use
on the Gulf Coast.
Recently adding to the growing body of research about the
FEMA trailers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published
the results of two studies of trailers that FEMA provided to those displaced
by Katrina. The first CDC study found average formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers
to be significantly elevated and that the levels could adversely affect occupant
health. Travel trailers had significantly higher average formaldehyde levels
than mobile homes. CDC also found that temperature, humidity, trailer type and
brand, keeping windows open, and mold affected formaldehyde levels.
A second study was recently conducted for CDC by the Lawrence
Berkeley Lab regarding formaldehyde in FEMA trailers used in the aftermath of
Katrina. This study traced the formaldehyde's presence to extensive use of cheap,
light plywood and particleboard for walls, flooring, and cabinet surfaces. The
study also found that the “Katrina trailers” were not outfitted
for adequate ventilation and were tighter than would be desired for housing
with such small volume.
Use of Naphthalene Poses High Poisoning Risk for Children
On May 14, the EPA released a draft revised risk assessment
for naphthalene that indicates children are at high risk of poisoning from the
chemical. Naphthalene is a common insect and small animal repellant used in
In the assessment, EPA said naphthalene poses a higher
risk to children than all other pesticides combined. This is partially due to
the toxicity of the chemical, but it is also a result of the way that naphthalene
is often used: mothballs are used in closets, wardrobes, dressers, and flowerbeds,
where they are easily accessible to children who may handle or ingest them.
Poison control center data indicate at least 133 cases of acute naphthalene
poisoning in children every year, and experts estimate that there are more than
11,000 annual exposures to the toxin.
Short-term exposure to naphthalene in both children and
adults can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and headache. Intense, prolonged
inhalation of the chemical can destroy red blood cells. Naphthalene is also
classified as a possible human carcinogen.
To reduce children’s exposure to the chemical, EPA
recommends completely blocking access to the toxin and changing the packaging
of mothballs to eliminate the risk for ingestion or handling. Eliminating the
use of naphthalene-containing products in the home is highly recommended by
Signs Three Lead Poisoning Prevention Bills
In mid-May, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D)
signed three bills to protect the state’s children from exposure to lead
through toys and in homes. One law, governing lead in toys, went into effect
on July 1. The other two bills go into affect on Oct. 1.
The first bill targets lead in toys and other children’s products. The
new law mandates that any products marketed to children under age 6 or that
may be used by children under age 6 contain lead in no amount greater than 0.06
percent of total weight. The bill regulates items including accessories and
jewelry, clothing, decorative objects, furniture, lunch boxes, eating utensils,
and toys. It requires independent, third-party testing and mandates that certification
be provided to retailers and/or the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)
upon request. It subjects manufacturers to civil fines ranging from $1,000 per
day for each violation, up to a misdemeanor charge and a fine of $10,000 or
imprisonment up to one year for a willful violation.
The second piece of legislation, the Lead Poisoning Prevention
Act of 2008, will protect owners and tenants by ensuring that information about
MDE’s lead certification is included in the Maryland Home Improvement
Commission licensure process and provides for a $5,000 penalty for each violation.
The act’s changes to the definition of “lead-safe housing”
will allow MDE to establish a lead-contaminated dust test as part of a more
stringent standard for housing. In addition, if a rental property owner cannot
verify compliance with the state’s lead standards, a tenant will be able
to break a lease or rental agreement and have the property owner pay for reasonable
relocation expenses. As a result, the risk of lead poisoning will be reduced
for lower-income tenants with young children who may not otherwise have the
means to pay for relocation.
The third bill empowers persons, including local governments
and nonprofit organizations, to purchase rental properties with lead paint violations
and bring them into compliance within a prescribed schedule. This bill would
encourage the purchase of these properties by responsible property owners, resulting
in an increase in the stock of lead-safe housing throughout Maryland.
Upon signing the legislation, O’Malley commented,
“Together these bills will continue Maryland’s leadership to eliminate
childhood lead exposure by 2010. By adding protection for owners and tenants,
encouraging the purchase and renovation of properties in violation, and enforcing
standards for children’s toys, Maryland is taking important steps to increase
the amount of lead-free, affordable housing.”
In late May, the State of Rhode Island launched a public
lead-safe housing registry and made it accessible on the Internet. The registry,
called the Lead Mitigation Certificate Database, already includes more than
15,000 properties and is updated on a regular basis as new properties come into
compliance with the state’s lead-safe housing law.
The database is searchable by city or town, and users can
also run queries by street address. The Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission
said it designed the online resource to be easy to use and to allow renters
the opportunity to determine if the housing they wish to lease is in fact lead-safe.
To receive a certificate of compliance and be included
in the database, rental property owners must allow the Rhode Island Department
of Health to inspect each unit and test for the presence of lead dust. Property
owners must also take any required mitigation steps to control paint and soil-based
hazards in order to be included on the list.
Advocates praised the database launch and said they hope
that by making such information publicly available, the state will encourage
rental property owners not already in compliance to take steps to render their
properties lead-safe and have the units included in the registry.
For more information on Rhode Island’s lead-safe
housing registry, visit www.hrc.ri.gov.
Contaminate House Dust with Largely Unknown Effects
Common flame retardants know as polybrominated diphenyl
ethers (PBDEs) have been detected in significant and increasing concentrations
in house dust over the past decade. The chemicals are used in household furniture,
electronics such as computers, and other products designed to reduce flammability.
The rising concentrations are cause for concern because, though many effects
of the chemicals remain unknown, scientists are beginning to understand the
human health impacts of PBDEs.
PBDEs, a class of brominated flame retardants, are organic
chemicals supplemented by bromine. Like their cousins, the chlorinated hydrocarbons,
PBDEs are highly persistent in house dust and other environments, and they are
also bioaccumulative, meaning that they build up in the tissues of living things,
including humans, over time.
As the May 2008 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives
explained, medical and environmental health researchers have only scraped the
surface about what they know about the effects of PBDEs. It appears that the
chemicals are potential endocrine disruptors, meaning they may negatively impact
the human hormone system. PBDEs particularly seem to target the action of the
In response to the growing body of research, the European
Union took proactive steps to ban two types of PBDEs, known as “penta”
and “octa,” and recently, the U.S. EPA forged a cooperative agreement
with PBDE manufacturers to phase out penta and octa in America. A third type
of PBDE, the supposedly more stable “deca,” is still in use in the
United States; due to recent studies that show that deca can also escape the
products in which it is used, build up in house dust, and break down in the
more bioaccumulative penta, the European Court of Justice banned the use of
deca on April 1.
Pushes Safety Control Measures for Rodent Poisons
New safety measures announced by the EPA are intended to
protect children from accidental exposure to rodent-control products. These
measures may also reduce the risk of accidental poisonings of pets and wildlife.
EPA developed the new safety rules in response to a lawsuit against the agency
filed by West Harlem Environmental Action and the National Resources Defense
Council in late 2004, which challenged a 2001 agency decision to allow rat poison
makers not to require that two effective deterrents—a bittering agent
and a dye—be included in their rodenticide products.
EPA is requiring that ten rodenticides used in bait products
marketed to consumers be enclosed in bait stations, making the pesticides inaccessible
to children and pets. The agency is also prohibiting the sale of loose bait,
such as pellets, for use in homes.
Rodenticides and other pesticides are some of the most
dangerous environmental health hazards found in the home. These chemicals can
cause acute poisonings, which can sometimes prove fatal, as well as respiratory,
central nervous system, developmental, endocrine, and reproductive system disorders.
Many pesticides are also known to cause or are suspected of causing cancer in
humans and pets.
Tobacco Smoke May Increase Severe Infection Risk in Children
In addition to its significant impacts on childhood asthma
and the development of lung and other cancers, environmental tobacco smoke in
the home is now suspected of increasing children’s risk of severe infections.
Such infections, including meningitis, often require hospitalization and prolonged
The exact pathway of increased infection risk is yet unknown,
but scientists studying the issue believe that environmental tobacco smoke,
also known as secondhand smoke, suppresses or otherwise alters a child’s
immune system in some way.
The increased risk is not insignificant. Researchers have
found that all children exposed to environmental tobacco smoke in the home face
a 14 percent increased risk of severe infection requiring hospitalization. Children
exposed during the first six months of life saw their risk increase by 45 percent.
Children with a low birth weight who were exposed to environmental tobacco smoke
in the home faired even worse, with a 75 percent increased risk of hospitalization,
while premature babies’ risk doubled when exposed to secondhand smoke.
Medical experts said that the easiest way to reduce the
risk is for parents and other residents of the home to quit smoking. Barring
that, all smokers should smoke outside the home and should never smoke in a
room where a child sleeps, plays, eats, or otherwise spends significant amounts
The Alliance is excited to have two talented individuals
join our staff as summer interns for the next few months:
Susan Dixon, a native of Washington, DC, is a junior at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She will be majoring in Environmental
Health Science, a program within UNC’s School of Public Health. This summer
she hopes gain experience in the nonprofit field, as well as learn more about
the environmental health issues associated with hazardous housing. Susan will
be working with the Alliance on updating our database of local healthy housing
laws and regulations, assembling information on community partners, and updating
some content on our website.
Lindsay Britt, a rising junior from Suttontown, NC, is
a journalism major and English minor at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. She is a staff writer for the on-campus monthly magazine Blue&White.
Coming from a small town, Lindsay is enjoying the change of pace of living and
interning in the nation's capital. Lindsay will be helping the Alliance with
some of our communication needs and is responsible for the new look of the Alert.
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HUD, CDC, EPA, and USDA will co-sponsor Building a
Framework for Healthy Housing: 2008 National Healthy Homes Conference from
Sept. 15-17 in Baltimore, MD. The conference will focus on key themes that together
build the framework necessary to make homes safe, healthy, and efficient for
everyone: Building Capacity to Deliver Healthy Housing; Mainstreaming Healthy
Housing Principles; Creating Healthy Housing through Research; Developing Enforcement
and Regulatory Strategies; Marketing Healthy Housing; and Educating the Public
and Practitioner. If you haven’t done so yet, register now by visiting
www.hud.gov/event_registration/index_2.cfm?eventID=855. There is no registration
fee but you must complete the online information form to register. Visit www.hud.gov/offices/lead/2008NHHC.cfm
for more information. If your agency or company is interested in exhibiting,
send an e-mail to email@example.com
to request exhibit information.
Save the date for the 6th Annual Conference on Children's
Health and the Environment. The conference will be held Sept. 18-19 in
Philadelphia. The conference is organized by the Pediatric Environmental Health
Specialty Unit (PESHU) of Region 3 – the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's
Health and the Environment (MACCHE). This two-day event is targeted to health
care providers, public health professionals, and the public. Discussions will
explore the intersection between the environment and child health issues and
will be centered on tracks including climate change, healthy homes, exposure
to toxicants and outcomes in children, and emerging issues in children’s
environmental health. For details, visit www.gwu.edu/%7Emacche/philadelphiaconference08/.