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Bill Moyers: Our Media Is Polluted by Toxic Lies About the Risks Posed by Lead

There’s no safe level of exposure to this dangerous toxin still lurking in millions of homes, but that truth is consistently under attack from industry-funded public relations excecutives.

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Our documents showed that they had been, they'd known about what they were creating, they'd known that children would be poisoned, they were discussing children dying as early as the 1920s and '30s, and yet they had created this huge environmental mess of millions and millions of pounds on the walls of Rhode Island, all of which was waiting to poison future generations.

DAVID ROSNER: And that they had done nothing about it, they continued to market. And that really, I think, enraged the jury.

GERALD MARKOWITZ And we were thrilled, just thrilled when at the end of this trial the jury came back and for the first time in lead industry lawsuits they held three lead companies responsible for cleaning up the mess, in the form of lead paint on the walls of houses throughout Rhode Island.

BILL MOYERS: So the jury said the industry has to clean up and pay for it?

GERALD MARKOWITZ: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: For the first time?

GERALD MARKOWITZ: First time.

DAVID ROSNER: This was the high point of our professional careers, the idea that we could use history and we could use the legal system really prevent disease for the future, not just pay back for the damages already done that were irreversible to children, but to actually prevent future generations. This was a suit that actually was going to demand somewhere between $1 billion and $4 billion from the companies to clean up the mess they had created. The low point of our lives, our professional lives, came two years later when the Supreme Court in Rhode Island overturned the decision.

BILL MOYERS: And what was the basis for them taking it back?

GERALD MARKOWITZ: Basically, they said that the lawsuit was filed under the wrong law, that it was filed under public nuisance law rather than under liability law.

DAVID ROSNER: What's interesting now is that there's another suit coming up in California. And there was fear that the California suit would not go forward because they thought the precedent of the Rhode Island Supreme Court denying the legitimacy of the suit would undermine that case. The Court in California rejected the arguments of the Supreme Court in Rhode Island. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island had said this can't go under, there is no standing in future generations to get damages from these companies because they haven't been damaged yet. Until the kids are damaged you can't actually sue. And California has said that absolutely, public health law is all based upon preventing disease. All regulations are in order to prevent future damage, therefore it can go forward in California. So we're quite excited because in June this court is, this case is going to be heard by a California jury.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about the Baltimore case that you write about.

DAVID ROSNER: In the 1980s, researchers at Hopkins wanted to find a way of remedying the conditions of Baltimore's housing, which lead was all over the place. And they were trying to find a way of doing it cheaply. So what they did is they set up three kinds of housing, one of which has been renovated to $1,650 worth of renovation, another to $3,500 and the last to $7,000 worth of renovation.

And then they recruited mothers, young mothers with children between the ages of six months to five years to live in these different houses, knowing that each house had lead exposures, but that if they could find which was the cheapest and which was the most effective way of lowering the blood lead level, not actually eliminating lead but lowering it a little bit.

 
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