"A problem of slum dwellings and relatively ignorant parents": a history of victim blaming in the lead pigment industry

Rosner, David K.; Markowitz, Gerald E.

In February 2006, in what the Rhode Island Supreme Court and others around the country called a "monumental lawsuit," a jury of six men and women held lead pigment manufacturers liable for creating what some have called the largest and longest on-going public health disaster for children in United States history. The State of Rhode Island's Attorney General's Office had initiated the suit nearly six years before charging that the historical record showed the industry had knowingly sold and profited from a product that they knew poisoned children. The attorneys representing the State argued that lead paint on the walls, woodwork, and windowsills of nearly 80 percent of the State's housing constituted a public nuisance that would lead to further cases of childhood lead poisoning in the coming years. The defense argued that the industry was not to blame. Instead, they placed responsibility for the epidemic on landlords for not maintaining their properties and on parents, most of whom were African-American and Latino, for not supervising their children more scrupulously. This article looks at the long, sad history of blaming children, parents, and even public health officials for the on-going tragedy of lead poisoning.



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Environmental Justice

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Academic Units
Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health
Published Here
March 11, 2014