Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Nat'l Association of Manufacturers Jokes About Lead-Poisoned Children

Every once in a while industry associations slip up and reveal their true sociopathic colors.

Pat Cleary, who writes the "Manufacturers' Blog" for the National Association of Manufacturers has always been a bit of a joke -- a bad joke considering NAM's "contribution" to repealing the ergonomics standard in 2001 and generally weakening workers health and safety rights.

Now, however, he's gone over the edge, way beyond bad taste, all the way to dispicable:
Trial Lawyers and the Theory of the Lead Paint Diet

Great editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal entitled, "Paint by Lawyer" about the trial lawyers' assault on the paint industry because of people eating -- that's right, eating -- lead paint. If you're eating lead paint as you're reading this, please stop. Paint is a coating, not a foodstuff.
Since when is lead poisoning in children a joke?

I guess there's not much funnier at NAM than reduced IQ, learning disabilities, attention deficit, disorders, behavioral problems, stunted growth, impaired hearing, kidney damage, mental retardation, and even death.

Not only that, but Cleary lies:
No matter, the last time one nationally-known paint company had any lead in their paint was 1938, a fact little-known to the public and oft-ignored by the trial bar. In the 40's and 50's, it was essentially discontinued industry-wide. In 1954, the industry developed a standard that banned the use of lead pigments in paint. There's been a lot of paint over the dam, as it were, since then.
It's little known because it's not true. Even the Journal column that he quotes states that
Until 1978, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned it for residential purposes, lead paint was widely used (though the industry had voluntarily reduced the amount of lead in paint about 20 years earlier).
And 75 percent of houses and apartments built before 1978 in the United States still contain lead paint. About two-thirds of the homes built before 1940 and one-half of the homes built from 1940 to 1960 contain heavily-leaded paint. Especially in low income areas, the paint is still chipping, still turning to dust and being ingested by hundreds of thousands of small children every year.

The Journal doesn't get away blameless either. First, the only reason the industry "voluntarily" reduced the amount of lead in paints was overwhelming evidence, not just that lead was poisoning children, but that the industry knew that lead was poisoning children.

The Journal's article was basically its usual screed against trial lawyers. It ends with this line:
A better way to protect [children] would be to pursue landlords who don't maintain their properties, rather than hooking up with contingency-fee lawyers to loot the paint industry for products that it believed to be safe when they were sold 30 years ago.(emphasis added
This is also a bald-faced lie. Anyone who knows the history of the lead industry in this country (and if you don't, read Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner's excellent book Deceit and Denial -- now) knows that knew that that children were being poisoned from ingesting lead as far back as the 1920's -- and spent the next several decades manipulating the media, buying scientists and fighting government regulation. [Actually before the 1920's: See here.]

But the myths live on, as Rosner and Markowitz point out:
Immediately after taking office in 2001, Bush, known to be a friend to industry, appointed Gale Norton to head the Department of the Internior. Norton, a former lobbyist for NL industries, the modern incarnation of National Lead, was quick to claim that the lead industry had first learned of the dangers of its products to children in the 1940's and had acted immediately to remove lead from point, when in fact industry documents indicate that they had known more than twenty years earlier that their product was killing children.
I'd write more, but I'm too disgusted right now. I'll end with the last lines of Deceit and Denial:
We may never know the true extent of the damage lead, vinyl and countless other chemicals have done to our society, not to mention the damage that trade associations have done to our democratic institutions. Nor will it ever be possible to evaluate the lost potential of individuals whose intelligence has been slightly lowered, whose behaviour has become a bit more erratic, whose personalities have been altered in ways imperceptible to scientific measurement. We will never know the social, economic and personal costs to society from the lost potential of our citizens.
It's really no joking matter.

P.S. They're probably beyond shame, but it might not hurt to write a few outraged letters to NAM President John Engler (National Association of Manufacturers, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20004-1790) or e-mail him here.

UPDATE: Cleary is unapologetic, and digging himself in deeper. Check out his responses here.
UPDATE2: NAM pulls blog entry. Details here.