October 18, 2007

Lead Paint in Homes a Serious Health Risk for Children, Whitehouse Says

Hearing of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Thank you, Madam Chairman, for convening this hearing. Under your leadership, this Committee has focused intently on the ways in which we influence our environment and how we can be better stewards of the world around us – from cleaning up pollution in our air and water, to reversing the devastating damage caused by global climate change.

We do this to preserve and protect; to preserve the natural resources on which we and future generations will depend, and to protect families from changes in our natural and man-made environments that can harm our lives and health. All too often, those threats appear in places we least expect.

In recent weeks, we’ve been reminded of another danger found where we least expect it: in our children’s toys. Hundreds of thousands of toys and other merchandise have been recalled because they contain lead paint, a poison that poses a serious risk to children’s health and well-being.

Children exposed to lead can develop learning disabilities, hearing impairments, and behavioral problems, even at extremely low levels – and this damage cannot be reversed.
We in Rhode Island know the dangers of lead poisoning well. For years, tens of thousands of Rhode Island children have lived in homes contaminated by lead paint, exposed to lead in paint chips or dust. More than 30,000 children have been diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels in our state.

Last year alone, lead poisoning was diagnosed in an additional 500 children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1.7 million children aged five and younger are affected by lead poisoning. Nationwide, more than 80 percent of older homes, constructed before 1978, contain lead paint.

While the danger of lead poisoning is in no way restricted to Rhode Island, I’m proud that our state has been a leader in the fight to raise awareness about the dangers of lead poisoning, and take strong action to reverse it.

When I served as Rhode Island’s Attorney General, we brought a public nuisance action against the companies that manufactured lead-contaminated paint, an innovative approach that, after several years and two trials, finally resulted in a jury verdict last year that the paint companies must abate the damage they caused.

That decision was a victory for Rhode Island’s children – the first of its kind in the nation. Today, we are moving ahead on abatement plans to ensure that our state’s homes are safe for our children and their families.

I’m proud that this committee has turned its attention to the serious risk presented by lead contamination and look forward to today’s hearing.


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