From the early 1900s to the late 1970s, the U.S Department of Commerce, Interior and Agriculture encouraged homeowners and builders to use lead based paint. The use of lead as an additive in the paint was preferred as the paint would be more durable. Because of this, most of the homes that were built before the 1980s have lead-based paint. The use of lead based paints was banned in the U.S in 1978. This is after research revealed that use of these paints in homes caused tremendous health problems, especially in children below four years (Environmental Protection Agency 20).
According to the environmental protection agency of America, lead paint is still found in more than 24 million American homes. This is despite it being banned in 1978 (EPA26). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 300000 children have been exposed to unhealthy levels of lead. These children have higher blood levels of lead than is considered safe. Blood lead level above ten micrograms per deciliter of blood is considered unsafe. The health problems associated with lead are kidney failure, damage of the nervous system impaired muscle coordination, poor learning language problems and attention deficient disorder (ATSDR 46).
The problem of lead poisoning had been discovered both in adults and children from as early as 1920. Some factory workers had even either gone mad or even died from lead poisoning. These illnesses and deaths could be attributed to the unethical conduct of both the manufacturers and the government. The ideal thing for any government that cared for its people would have been to ban the use of lead in paints completely. However, its use continued to the late 1970s despite the millions of Americans, including children getting sick or dying. A proposal by the League of Nations to ban lead paint worldwide in 1922 was vetoed by the U.S government (Markowitz and Rosner 18).
Children are especially very susceptible and can be poisoned after the ingesting lead equivalent of six grains of salt. The health effects of lead on young children have also been known. Kessler and Jackson, (43) published the results of a study about the effects of lead poisoning on children. This study gave exquisite information. However, the study was criticized for not adhering to ethical standards. It is unethical to expose deliberately children to health hazards. The researchers had prior knowledge that the children's health would deteriorate due to exposure to lead. They went on and recruited child subjects for their research.
Issues of unethical practice have continued to crop up concerning the use of lead paints. Perhaps the most inconsiderate decision would have been the U.S government's decision not to support a total ban of lead paints in 1922. It even sponsored health campaigns claiming the health problems were due to poverty. Millions of American children lives would have been saved. The manufacturing companies also opposed the ban. They colluded with the politicians to sell poisonous paints to maintain profits. They even lobbied for friendly policies including a recommendation of their products by government agencies. Some even went on to advertise their paint using falsehoods (Robert 6).
The government only accepted the lead poisoning problem in the 1980s. A 15-year plan developed to remove lead from American homes in 1990 had to be shelved after opposition from lead industry, property developers, landlords, insurance companies and some private pediatricians. The environmental protection agency then, faced with limited options, commissioned the infamous Baltimore toddler study. In the study, the researchers tested the effectiveness of three lead abatement strategies. The study participants were, however not informed. This is very unethical. The study exposed children aged less than four years to lead poisoning. The landlords of the selected houses were encouraged to lease out to parents with young children. The researchers should have sought consent from the parents. They also erred in using children in research (Robert 23).
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. "Tox FAQsTM for Lead". Center
- for Disease Control. (2007).
- Epstein, Helen. "Getting Away with Murder," The New York Review. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
- Kessler, M. Farfel, and D. Jackson. “Childhood Lead Poisoning: A Controlled Trial of the Effect of Dust-Control Measures on Blood Lead Levels,” The New England Journal of
- Medicine.309.18 (1983). 1089–1093. Web 10 Mar. 2013.
- Markowitz, Gerald and Rosner, David. Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children. California. University of California Press/ Milbank Memorial Fund. 2013.
- Robert M. Nelson, “Nontherapeutic Research, Minimal Risk, and the Kennedy Krieger Lead Abatement Study,” IRB: Ethics and Human Research. 23. 6 (2001). Web 10 Mar. 2013.
- U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Lead-Based Paint Remodeling Your Home. Epa.gov. 2013.