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BILL MOYERS: There’s a reason to keep fighting against the powers that be. Because no matter the setbacks or the years it may take, you can win. Remember when we introduced you to Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner? They’re public health historians who never quit even the giants of industry try to silence them. Their book "Deceit and Denial," for example, told how chemical companies concealed the truth about toxins in our food, water, and air. The companies responded with a vicious attack to discredit them, and failed. They were targets again when their most recent book, "Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children," warned that kids can still be harmed by lead.

GERALD MARKOWITZ on Moyers & Company: Scientists now say that it is very likely there is no safe level of lead, that any amount of lead in a child’s body, in a child’s blood, you know, causes a variety of neurological and intellectual problems.

DAVID ROSNER on Moyers & Company: The message really should be is we need to really think of lead as one symbol, one symptom of this much larger problem of the pollution of our children, pollution of their lives, the pollution of all of us from a whole host of toxic materials that we are, we've grown accustomed to using.

BILL MOYERS: Markowitz and Rosner are often called as expert witnesses for the prosecution, including one lawsuit in Rhode Island that went to trial in 2005. Decaying paint left a deadly toxic mess in Rhode Island homes. The state Attorney General demanded that the paint companies be held responsible for cleaning it up.

DAVID ROSNER on Moyers & Company: Our documents showed that they had known about what they were creating, they'd known that children would be poisoned, they were discussing children dying as early as the 1920s and '30s, and yet they had created this huge environmental mess of millions and millions of pounds on the walls of Rhode Island, all of which was waiting to poison future generations. And that they had done nothing about it, they continued to market. And that’s really, I think, enraged the jury.

GERALD MARKOWITZ on Moyers & Company: And we were thrilled, just thrilled when at the end of this trial the jury came back and for the first time in lead industry lawsuits they held three lead companies responsible for cleaning up the mess, in the form of lead paint on the walls of houses throughout Rhode Island.

BILL MOYERS: But two years later that groundbreaking decision was overturned by the state supreme court. Yet, when Markowitz and Rosner spoke with us last spring, they were hopeful that a similar lawsuit in California might succeed where Rhode Island had failed.

DAVID ROSNER on Moyers & Company: The Supreme Court of Rhode Island had said this can't go under, there is no standing in future generations to get damages from these companies because they haven't been damaged yet. Until the kids are damaged you can't actually sue. And California has said that absolutely, public health law is all based upon preventing disease. All regulations are in order to prevent future damage, therefore it can go forward in California.

BILL MOYERS: And go forward it did, against more stiff opposition from the industry that denied ever having deliberately sold a harmful product. And yet, documents discovered by Rosner and Markowitz dating back as far as 1900 showed otherwise. Including one company’s admission that lead paint was a “deadly cumulative poison.” Unbelievably, the industry would go on to advertise that it was safe for children.

DAVID ROSNER on Moyers & Company: And they show these ads in which children are painting their toys, painting their cabinets, painting their walls, painting their furniture with a poison. At the same time when in their own internal documents they’re saying, we have these examples, we have, we’re being attacked because children and babies are getting poisoned by lead on their cribs.

BILL MOYERS: Finally, last month, success. That historical record helped convince a California Superior Court justice who wrote in his decision that, “In the 1920s, scientists from the Paint Manufacturers Association reported that lead paint used on the interiors of homes would deteriorate, and that lead dust resulting from this deterioration would poison children and cause serious injury.” The companies just never bothered to warn the public. And even though lead was banned from paint back in 1977, the industry continues to deny accountability and has defeated some 50 lawsuits nationwide. The California judge ruled that three companies must pay $1.1 billion dollars to remove lead paint in some 5 million homes. The companies will appeal. No surprise to Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner.

ROSNER on Moyers & Company: You know, in our lifetime we have seen the abandonment of the commitment to try to help those who are most vulnerable in our society. And instead of that commitment today we ask how much does it cost. And by that we mean how many dollars does it cost. We don’t ask what does it cost in terms of the health of our children, what does it cost in terms of the futures of our children and our society.

BILL MOYERS: So take a lesson from these two citizens who keep fighting for that future against the might of greed and power. Don’t give up. Fight on. You just might win.

Segment: A Win for Children’s Health

Bill shares good news on the decades-long fight to protect children from the dangers of lead-based paint. When Bill spoke with public health historians Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner last year, they told him about a pending lawsuit brought by 10 California counties and cities against some leading companies in the paint industry.

With the help of historical documents unearthed by Markowitz and Rosner, a California judge ruled that three companies were guilty of creating a public nuisance by manufacturing and selling lead-based paint for home use long after they knew it was harmful to children. The companies were ordered to pay $1.1 billion towards cleaning up the toxin.

Producer: Gail Ablow. Associate Producer: Rob Booth. Editor: Rob Kuhns.

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  • Anonymous

    Lead paint still exists in many low income housing units today. Removing it is not considered cost effective to wealthy property owners so we continue to endanger children that live in these units. Creating healthy and affordable housing needs to be a priority in future development. Demolition and rebuilding with luxury apartments seems to be the way private investors deal with blight. This is an area only public, meaning government, funds can remedy the situation unless proper sanctions are put on developers to do what is in the greater public interest.

  • JonThomas

    Can you just imagine the type of person it takes to fight against their own responsibility of hurting a child?

    Actual monsters are the most powerful people and entities in this country and our society.

    Always remember these examples when someone says… “we’re number 1.”