Faculty Provide Testimony Against Paint Manufacturers

December 26, 2013

Three corporations —Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries, and ConAgra— have been ordered to contribute $1.1 billion into a state-run fund to clean up lead paint hazards in 10 California cities and counties. The December 16th ruling, from the case first filed in 2000, is considered momentous because it acknowledges that companies were aware of the harm their products caused long before lead in house paint was banned in the U. S.in 1978.

Columbia Mailman School’s David Rosner, Ronald H. Lauterstein Professor of Sociomedical Sciences, is an expert on the history of lead paint and was a key witness in the case. Dr. Rosner, who also co-directs the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health has focused his work on the histories of occupational health and industrial disease.

Much of the historical evidence for the case was from research conducted by Dr. Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, Mailman School Sociomedical Sciences adjunct professor and Distinguished Professor at CUNY, for their books, Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children and Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution. Both publications covered the history of industry knowledge about the toxicity of lead paint. In addition to the current ruling, theirresearch has been critical to other cases aimed at removing lead from children's environments and compensating parents and governmental agencies for the costs of care and abatement of hazards in the home environment.

“It is critical for the public health community to rally around the Court’s decision because industry is already mounting a furious public relations campaign that could affect the atmosphere in which the Appeals Court makes its ruling in the case,” cautions Dr. Rosner. “A previous victory for public health and lead poisoned kids was overturned in Rhode Island when their Supreme Court found “reason” to overturn a jury verdict following just such a campaign.”

Read Philadelphia Inquirer Q and A with Dr. Rosner.