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Getting the lead out 

Can ACORN get lead paint eradicated from NC homes?

In 2004, more than 1,500 children had high levels of lead in their blood, putting them at risk for learning disabilities, behavioral problems and devastating diseases.

Local and state members of the advocacy group ACORN, or Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, believe the industry responsible for selling paint containing the lead should be held accountable for making sure more children aren't affected.

ACORN wants North Carolina to follow the lead of states such as Rhode Island, where a jury this year found three paint companies, including Sherwin-Williams, created a public nuisance by selling the paint.

"The community didn't create this problem by itself," said Meghan Foulke, legislative and political director for NC ACORN. "And it shouldn't have to fix it by itself."

A spokeswoman for NC Attorney General Roy Cooper last week said she wasn't familiar with the Rhode Island case and couldn't comment.

The Rhode Island suit alone could cost paint companies billions; they are appealing. A lawyer for Sherwin-Williams said in a statement that ACORN is using inaccurate information to unfairly blame paint companies and not neglectful landlords and property owners. "These claims have been made numerous times before and have been rejected time after time," attorney Antonio Dias said.

Lead poisoning, which disproportionately affects poor, minority children, happens when children eat lead-infected paint chips or breathe lead dust. Banned in 1978, lead paint is still found in many homes built before then.

ACORN contends that Sherwin-Williams for decades sold paint it knew was hazardous. The activist group also believes the company is violating agreements with states' attorneys general; those agreements stipulated that paint retailers must provide information at check-out areas about how to safely paint and repair affected houses.

Lead screenings in Mecklenburg County in 2005 found 11 children who had high levels of lead in their blood. The number of affected children is down, possibly due in part to fewer screenings, said Tom Wood, an environmental health specialist with the Mecklenburg County Health Department. Screenings are free at the health department.

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