MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and an attorney for nearly 170 lead-poisoned children allege the paint industry is trying to shift blame to contaminated water.

Lawyer Peter Earle's lawsuit has accused five lead pigment manufacturers of attempting to create a controversy over contaminated water to avoid liability for lead paint they sold, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported .

The city has struggled with lead poisoning for decades. Lead paint is the primary source of lead poisoning in Milwaukee children, according to city health officials. Lead poisoning can cause brain and nervous system damage, as well as learning and behavior problems.

An expert being used by the paint industry said in a deposition last year that lead-based paint is no longer the main source of exposure. He cited information from a former city health commissioner but didn't use data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust are the leading sources of lead-poisoning in children, according to the CDC.

"We used to not worry at all about soil or water, and we are finding now that more and more cases cannot be explained by lead-based paint," said Brian Magee, a Massachusetts-based toxicologist who serves as an expert witness on the risks posed by various chemicals. "So the view of childhood lead exposure has become more complicated in Milwaukee, as well as other places."

Jones Day, a law firm representing Sherwin-Williams, recently requested records from Milwaukee Water Works about work done on water mains from 1989 to 2010. The firm is gathering information about the health of the city's children, said Antonio F. Dias, one of the lead attorneys for Sherwin-Williams.

Dias said he thinks that "any public health advocate would want to know more, not less, about potential avenues of exposure."

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com