Rhode Island Lead Paint Cleanup Proceeds under DuPont Deal

August 20, 2008

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch announced that cleanup of up to 600 housing units contaminated by lead paint is now going out to bid and said the work would target properties in poorer neighborhoods of the state and should be finished within three years.

The work is being funded by DuPont Co., which in 2005 agreed to pay for the cleanup and make millions of dollars in charitable contributions in exchange for being dismissed from a lawsuit against former lead paint companies.

The announcement this week was bittersweet given the state Supreme Court’s reversal last month of a landmark jury verdict that could have forced three other manufacturers to spend billions of dollars cleaning hundreds of thousands of contaminated properties.

But now, the state is left with only the DuPont money and a far more modest cleanup than the $2.4 billion project it proposed after winning the lawsuit against Sherwin-Williams Co. and two other defendants two years ago.

“While there has been a little bit of a setback, one thing that was never really at issue was the application of the funds from DuPont,” Lynch said at a news conference soliciting individuals and organizations to apply to perform the cleanup and oversee the program.

The proposals are due Sept. 19 and a winning applicant should be selected by the end of October, said Barbara Baldwin, program coordinator at Healthy Kids Collaborative, a DuPont-funded lead safety organization.

The work will be done in low-income neighborhoods in Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket and in places with large concentrations of young children with elevated blood lead levels, though the exact properties have yet not been selected. The units will be cleaned to state and federal standards.

“We’ve been waiting for quite some time to make this happen, and we’re really excited that it’s moving along and we’ll get some houses fixed,” said Liz Colon, director of training at the Childhood Lead Action Project, an advocacy group.

This is the second phase of the DuPont deal.

In December, Lynch announced that $1.2 million would be distributed over two years to six community organizations for education, outreach and training on lead poisoning.

DuPont was dropped from the lawsuit months before it went to trial after reaching a deal with the state that the company valued at roughly $12.5 million, including $9 million pledged to Children’s Health Forum, a Washington nonprofit that works on lead poisoning issues.

The deal drew scrutiny because Lynch had taken campaign contributions from people with ties to DuPont and because Children’s Health Forum had received most of its funding from DuPont and most of its board members had ties to the company.

Lynch, who held the news conference outside a home that was recently rid of contamination as a model for the program, said he hoped the cleanup would quiet skepticism about the DuPont deal.

“To people who may be doubting Thomases, go in and lick the wall in here,” he said. “It’s clean, it’s healthy, it’s real.”

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