SAN JOSE, Calif. (Legal Newsline) -- Key witnesses in the suit against the nations one-time top lead paint manufacturers told stories Friday about poisoned children in two of the jurisdictions waging the suit: Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties.
An estimated 6,500 children in Los Angeles County have elevated blood lead levels that is a rate of concern, according to testimony from Dr. Cyrus Rangan, the Director of Toxicology and Environmental Assessment for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. He sees as few as two and as many as 85 cases of lead poisoning each month.
"The vast majority of time these children are found to be exposed to lead paint, lead chips and lead dust," said Rangan.
Symptoms of lead poisoning include vomiting, altered states and seizures. When a child displays these symptoms the protocol, testified Rangan, is to ask the parents what year the house was built. If the parent says their home was built before 1978, doctors will x-ray the child's stomach area to determine if he-she has ingested chipped lead-paint.
In an x-ray, lead-paint chips will light up in the child's stomach area displaying a "Christmas tree of lights" described Rangan. Through an invasive procedure known as "bowel irrigation" doctors then flush the child's digestive tract out the other end, to determine the source of lead, which can be intact lead paint chips.
Rangan told two stories of children 18 months to 2 years old who were lead poisoned in recent years.
Two years ago, he heard about an 18-month old child from a "lower socioeconomic Latino family" whose house had "visible peeling paint." Upon testing, the child had a blood lead level at 78. Five is a rate of concern. An x-ray showed the child had ingested chipped lead paint. After 4 days of hospitalization, the child's lead levels dropped nearly 50 percent to 40.
Doctors recommended moving the child from the home, since removal from the source of lead poisoning is most important way to treat lead poisoning. But her lead levels increased again. Upon another X-ray the doctors found lead paint chips in her stomach again. The child was living with it's grandmother, whose house also was built before 1978 and had peeling paint.
Attorneys for the defense objected to Rangan's testimony as an expert, dismissing it as anecdotal without scientific backing.
"This is hearsay," argued Clement Glynn, attorney for DuPont.
Judge James P. Kleinberg overruled, but calling Rangan a "hybrid" said his qualifications of a doctor, public health official and consultant make his testimony relevant, but noted his stories were empirical.
"I'm going to take your objections into account. Don't despair if you're making objections and I overrule," said Kleinberg, making it clear that the plaintiff's, 10 cities and counties in California, will have their day in court to tell the history of the lead paint industry and related health impacts that stretch more than 100 years. But, it will be weighed by the rule of law including the defense's response and counter testimony.
It isn't always as easy as an X-ray to identify the source of lead poisoning, continued Rangan. In 2012, a physician called him about a 2-year-old child with lead poisoning. The child's blood lead levels were 35. The family home was built in 1910.
"So the suspicion was that the child was exposed to lead paint," said Rangan.
But doctors could not find lead paint chips in the child's abdomen; there was no peeling paint in the home. So, the family hired an industrial hygenist to identify the source of lead exposure.
"After the inspection,one positive finding was lead dust on window sills and on the floor below window sills," said Rangan, "Lead paint in window frames and friction from opening and closing windows and doors can result in the liberation of lead paint dust," he explained.
Parent's said that yes, the child will put it's mouth on and suck window sills in their home, according to Rangan. This testimony countered the defense's claim that intact lead paint is, essentially, safe.
"It's not uncommon to find lead based paint dust in a home that has intact paint," he said.
Upon cross examination, Glynn, pointed out while Rangan may have consulted for a physician, who's patient was exposed to lead, he only hospitalized five children for lead poisoning since 2005. Two of those cases were caused by eating lead contaminated candy from Mexico; one case was from applying makeup.
"Today in L.A. there are multiple sources of lead. And, in fact, you've testified that candy from outside the U.S. is a rapid cause of exposures," said Glynn.
Candy from Mexico can have dangerous levels of lead, including chocolate covered grasshoppers, popular in Oaxaca, which also appeal to the large Latino population in L.A. Glynn argued and Rangan agreed.
"It would be ridiculous to say just because you live in a lead household you are going to get lead poisoned," said Glynn, in which Rangan agreed.
In an effort to downplay lead paint as a source of lead poisoning-Glynn said, "Even if you drink enough water, it can become toxic ... there's no substance where the lower the dose, the greater the threat."
How serious of a health concern is lead exposure? Rangan never publicly said lead exposure is a public health crisis, attorneys argued.
Nearly 350 children in Santa Clara County have blood lead levels at a rate of concern, testified Marty Fenstershieb, Santa Clara County Department of Public Health Officer and Medical Director. Lead based paint in homes made before 1978 is a leading cause of the lead exposure to children under the age of 6, he said. And that's a real problem since it's more than half of the homes in his jurisdiction.
"67% of the housing stock in Santa Clara County is pre 1978," said Fenstershieb. The percentage of children living in pre 1978 homes may be greater.
"We have 150,000 children under the age of 6," he said, referring to their epidemiologist's study, "out of 250 housing units 80% were pre 1978 houses," said Fenstershieb.
Defense objected to his testimony again, on hearsay, arguing Fenstershieb is not expert and uses records and reports not issued to the defense to review and vet.
Both county officials pointed to the lack of resources as a hinderance to continuing childhood lead poisoning prevention, which met fierce criticism from the defense.
"This is an attempt to drag the court across the judicial line into the legislative line," argued Michael Phol, counsel for Sherwin-Williams, "We're talking about government revenue and allocation of resources and courts are not moving into the legislation body."
Plaintiff's expert witnesses argued since lead exposure is irreversible, the best method to address lead exposure is prevention.
"Once their levels are detectable it's too late, we've failed them," said Fenstershieb.
County officials claim abatement or removal of the source of lead exposure is the best method to fight childhood lead poisoning, and that costs more money than they have, so 10 jurisdictions in the suit want the makers of one time lead paints to pay for those costs using the public nuisance claim. If Kleinberg agrees the defendants created a public nuisance by making lead based paint and pigments and then promoting and selling them in the respective jurisdictions, it would be a precedent setting case for public entities to hold private entities accountable for pollution.
Meanwhile, the complex litigation will continue for at least another two weeks, as parties in The People of California v. Atlantic Richfield Company et al. continue throwing back and questioning numbers, percentage rates, toxic levels of lead and causes of lead poisoning when the plaintiffs enter week three of testimony, Monday.