PROVIDENCE, RI — The state of Rhode Island and a prominent Baltimore attorney have filed lawsuits against former lead-paint manufacturers and pigment suppliers, seeking millions of dollars to pay for treatment of children affected by lead poisoning and to remove lead paint from buildings.

Encouraged by the multi-state, multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement, Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse filed suit against former lead-paint and pigment manufacturers and called upon the industry to “take responsibility and clean up its mess.”

In Baltimore, attorney Peter G. Angelos filed lawsuits that seek to force paint manufacturers to pay for the cost of removing old lead paint from a million Maryland homes and to pay millions of dollars in damages to six Baltimore children who suffer from lead poisoning. The suits charge that paint manufacturers conspired for years to conceal the hazards of lead poisoning and derail restrictions on lead-based paint.

The National Paint & Coatings Association immediately issued a statement defending the coatings industry’s record in responding to the problem of lead-paint hazards in housing. In the statement, NPCA President J. Andrew Doyle said paint manufacturers voluntarily discontinued the use of lead pigments in consumer paint nearly 50 years ago and supported legislation to effectively ban lead from paint in the 1970s.

“Since the 1960s, we have been at the forefront of the effort to educate the public on the dangers of childhood lead poisoning and ways to reduce lead-dust exposures,” Doyle said. He also pointed to the industry’s pivotal role in the launch of the national CLEARCorps program, which carries out lead-hazard reduction activities in inner-city areas, including parts of Baltimore.

“The paint industry has approached health concerns about lead with openness, responsiveness and leadership,” Doyle said. “Indeed, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and other agencies point to NPCA as a resource for information about lead-exposure prevention.”

At least a dozen other states are also considering lawsuits against makers of lead paint, said John J. McConnell, a lawyer for Rhode Island who is also pursuing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 30,000 lead-poisoned children in Cleveland.

Rhode Island reportedly has one of the highest lead-poisoning rates in the nation, with nearly 20% of children entering kindergarten this fall showing high levels of lead poisoning.

Named as defendants in the Rhode Island suit are Atlantic Richfield Co., DuPont Co, The Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc., the Glidden Co. unit of ICI plc, O’Brien Corp. (also acquired by ICI), SCM Chemicals Inc., American Cyanamid Co. (now Cytec Industries Inc.), and the Lead Industries Association, a trade group.

The Baltimore lawsuits name many of the same defendants, in addition to PPG Industries Inc. and Bruning Paint Co. The NPCA is also named as a defendant.

One of the defendants, ICI, issued a statement saying the allegations in the lawsuits “have nothing to do with any paints that have been sold to the public in the United States for decades. Today’s paints are safe, and it would be very unfortunate if these charges resulted in needless fears.” The statement also noted “the simple fact … that the paint industry acted voluntarily and responsibly to address this issue more than 40 years ago, and two decades before the federal government imposed regulations on lead-based paints.”

A spokesman for another company named in the suit, PPG Industries Inc., said the company’s standard policy is to decline comment on litigation. But the spokesman, John Ruch, said “PPG hasn’t sold lead-based consumer paints for decades, at a minimum.”

Angelos, who has won hundreds of millions of dollars in litigation targeting the asbestos and tobacco industries, was quoted in the Baltimore news media as saying there are “strong similarities” in the lead-paint case he is seeking to build. “We have a conspiracy that went on for 60 years,” he told the Baltimore Sun newspaper. “The companies and their trade associations acted together to suppress medical knowledge and to influence scientific inquiries into the hazards of lead paint.”

But previous attempts to hold the makers of lead pigments and lead-containing paints responsible for such hazards have been largely unsuccessful. Judges generally have required plaintiffs to show which manufacturer’s paint contaminated a particular structure and poisoned a particular child, a task that has proven difficult.