Paint makers’ O.K. to put warning stickers on cans is “an empty gesture that’s too little, too late”—Lynch

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch called the agreement announced today requiring paint manufacturers to affix warning labels on paint cans “an empty gesture” apparently designed to influence the verdict of Rhode Island’s upcoming retrial of the lead-paint case. “These manufacturers didn’t need the approval of attorneys general to warn consumers about the dangers of lead-based paint,” he said. 

“It’s too little, too late,” he added. “It’s nothing more than a smokescreen. These warning labels only address a small portion of the overall problem related to childhood lead poisoning. This agreement fails to address the full extent of the dangers of lead paint and, perhaps purposefully, it comes as we are taking steps to retry our case against the lead pigment manufacturers. It is difficult not to infer from its latest gambit that the industry is attempting to poison the judgment of potential jurors in the State’s retrial of the lead-paint case.” 

Lynch continued: “For more than 60 years, the lead-paint industry has succeeded at hiding the truth about the poisonous effects of lead pigment in paint. But time always tells and, unfortunately, time has told the sad truth in Rhode Island—namely, that over the years tens of thousands of our children have been lead-poisoned, with thousands more likely to be lead-poisoned this year.” 

Lynch reacted sharply to the news that the National Paint and Coating Association (NPCA) and attorneys general of 46 states today announced an agreement “alerting consumers to the hazards of lead paint exposure and how to avoid it.” The deal requires manufacturers to put warning stickers on cans of paint for the next 19 months only and provide consumer education and some training from 2003 to 2007. 

“How ironic,” Lynch said. “As early as 1939, a paint makers’ association told its members the same thing, that they, the lead-paint makers, should warn consumers about the ‘dangerous properties’ of their product.’ ” The Lead Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association, Lynch noted, advised members: “ ‘A manufacturer who puts out a dangerous article or substance without accompanying it with a warning as to its dangerous properties is ordinarily liable for any damage which results from such failure to warn…The manufacturer…must know the qualities of his product and cannot escape liability on the ground that he did not know it to be dangerous.’ ” 

“For the past 64 years, the industry could have done this on its own but chose not to,” Lynch added. “This agreement can be seen as shifting the responsibility of cleaning up their mess from themselves to the very people they’ve been harming. They’re doing this because of the pressure that the State of Rhode Island has brought to bear on them. And we have no intention of backing down until justice is served.”