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Rhode Island’s landmark lawsuit against the lead paint industry is now in the hands of a Providence jury that must decide if the product creates a public health threat. Jurors returned to court Friday for their second day of deliberations. They were wrestling with the sole question on their verdict sheet: “Does the presence of lead pigment in paint and in coats in homes, schools, hospitals and other public and private buildings throughout the state of Rhode Island constitute a public nuisance?” Before giving them the case Thursday, Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein told the six-person jury they were not to consider whether the paint industry is liable for poisoning children, nor to assess damages. Those issues will be determined in later trials if the state prevails in this lawsuit, the judge said. Silverstein defined a public nuisance as something that interferes with the public’s well being to an unreasonable degree. “The essential claim is that someone has suffered harm or injuries they ought not have to bear,” Silverstein said. Lead paint was banned in 1978, after studies showed flaking paint or dust is harmful to children who eat or breathe it. Health problems include behavioral disorders, brain damage and even death. Rhode Island is the first state to try to hold the industry accountable for poisoning children. Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse’s lawsuit names eight former lead paint manufacturers. The state claims the paint is a public health threat, arguing it has poisoned 35,000 children in Rhode Island since 1993. Attorneys say the paint is dangerous regardless of its condition. The paint companies contend the problem is isolated to deteriorating paint found in homes managed by delinquent landlords or irresponsible homeowners. If the state prevails, a new jury would decide if paint companies can be held liable. A subsequent phase could involve damages. Legal analysts say a verdict for the state in this phase would invite other states and communities to file lawsuits of their own. More than 40 lawsuits have been filed since 1989 by individuals and communities against lead paint companies. All have failed. Rhode Island is the first state to sue the industry under public nuisance law. The companies named in the lawsuit are American Cyanamid Co.; Atlantic Richfield; ConAgra Grocery Products Co.; Cytec Industries Inc.; DuPont Co.; Millennium Inorganic Chemicals, Inc.; NL Industries Inc. and Sherwin-Williams Co. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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