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R.I. Gets OK To Sue Lead Paint Biz

April 2, 2001

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Rhode Island officials can pursue a lawsuit that aims to set a national precedent holding paint companies liable for health problems linked to lead in paint, a state judge ruled Monday.

Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse has the right under Rhode Island law to pursue such litigation that protects the public interest, Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein said.

Whitehouse, inspired by the tobacco settlement, filed the suit seeking millions of dollars from the lead paint industry to pay for removing paint from homes and caring for poisoned children.

Industry lawyers rejected the comparison with tobacco, arguing lead paint has been off the market for years. They asked Silverstein to dismiss the suit, arguing Whitehouse did not have the authority to take such legal action.

Lead poisoning can cause a variety of ailments, ranging from lower IQs and learning disabilities to seizures and death.

Rhode Island’s lead paint poisoning rate is above the national average. About 80 percent of the state’s homes were built before lead-based paint was banned in 1978.

The defendants include: Sherwin-Williams; SCM Chemicals Inc. and American Cyanamid Co., whose paint liabilities were assumed by Cytec Industries Inc. of West Paterson, N.J.; Atlantic Richfield Co., or Arco, of Los Angeles; DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del.; Glidden Co., a unit of Imperial Chemical Industries PLC in England; and NL Industries Inc. of Houston.

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