Testimony of U.S. Senator Jack Reed Before the Senate Committee

on the Judiciary

November 2, 1999

Now, with regard to childhood lead poisoning, as you may know, Senator Torricelli and I have introduced the Lead Poisoning Expense Recovery Act (S. 182 1) which provides clear authority for the Federal government to recover from the manufacturers of lead paint, the significant public resources already expended to mitigate childhood lead poisoning. This includes dollars spent on medical care and treatment, special education, and funds spent to make homes lead-safe for children.

Nearly one million preschoolers nationwide have excessive levels of lead in their blood, making lead poisoning the leading environmental health disease among children.

Even low levels of lead exposure can cause - serious injury to the developing brain and nervous system of children.

At high levels of exposure lead can cause - mental retardation; and even - death.

Lead-based paint in housing is the major remaining source of exposure and is responsible for most cases of childhood lead poisoning.

An estimated 3 million tons of lead still coat the walls of American homes. Approximately half of America's housing stock, or roughly 64 million units contain some lead-based paint.

My home state of Rhode Island has the 5th oldest housing stock in the country, and, as a result, has a lead poisoning rate that is 3 times the national average.

Taxpayers have already paid over a billion dollars to deal with the tragic consequences of childhood lead exposure, including significant expenditures for medical care, special education, and lead abatement in housing. However, what has been spent so far is barely a drop in the bucket. Protecting our children's health doesn't come cheap. Medical costs typically run in the thousands of dollars for each child with elevated lead levels; they are far more if hospitalization is required.

And, lead abatement is expensive. In Rhode Island alone, we are looking at a bill of $300 million to clean up just the most dangerous housing units. Despite our effort to address childhood lead poisoning legislatively, the fight has been slow and inadequate. At the current rate, it could be decades longer, and millions of poisoned children later, until we can finally ..get the lead out...

In contrast to the public funds which have been expended; to date, an industry that has over $30 billion in assets, has yet to make a significant contribution to efforts to address the Problems associated with its Product. Take the State of Maryland for example. Since 1992, the federal government has spent $28.5 million to make Maryland homes lead-safe. The industry's contribution, on the other hand, was $481,900. Mr. Chairman, the magnitude of this problem and the unwillingness of industry to respond has already sparked legal action at the State level. In Rhode Island, Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse recently filed a 10-count lawsuit against the manufacturers of lead paint and the industry's trade association. The lawsuit documents nearly a century-long record of industry culpability.

The complaint lays out compelling evidence about the activities of the lead industry showing that it aggressively marketed its product as safe, while knowing fully of its harmful effects. Although the lead industry knew since the early 1900s that lead was hazardous to human health, the evidence suggests that they continued producing and marketing the product well into the 1960s.

Because of the severity of the problem and the behavior of the industries, Senator Torricelli and I have introduced legislation that will ensure that justice is served. As cities and states stand up and say enough is enough, it is only appropriate for the federal government to join them in the effort to hold the industry responsible. The seriousness of childhood lead poisoning and the considerable expense borne by taxpayers to clean up the industry's mess demands action now. I urge my Senate colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation so that we -an move aggressively towards our goal of ending childhood lead poisoning.

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