Statement From the Childhood Lead Action Project Regarding Tenant Victory in Claiborne v. Duff: Landlord to Pay Former Pawtucket Resident over $350,000 for Lead Poisoning

July 28, 2015

In a historic verdict announced last Friday, a Providence jury found Florida-based landlord Duncan Duff guilty of negligence in the 1998 lead poisoning of two-year-old Traecina Claiborne, now age 19. After a nearly two-week trial, the jury not only ordered Mr. Duff to compensate Ms. Claiborne for the pain and suffering caused by his failure to protect her from lead hazards at her Pawtucket apartment, but also imposed punitive damages in recognition of his reckless conduct. Including interest, the judgment comes to more than $350,000. This significant individual victory also has the potential to benefit the community as a whole, by inspiring other parents and tenants to take similar action, and by motivating landlords to comply with housing safety laws.

This strong verdict from the jury should serve to put local landlords on notice. Although the "profit over people" strategy of property management is sadly alive and well, victories like this show that the community is unwilling to allow exploitation and greed to win every time. Landlords who violate both the basic moral responsibility to provide their tenants with a safe environment as well as the laws that spell that concept out in specific detail are playing a game that they are more and more likely to lose.

We also hope that Ms. Claiborne's victory will encourage other tenants to take action - to assert their right to safe housing both individually and collectively, and to keep fighting to address the root causes of lead poisoning long-term. The Childhood Lead Action Project's members and staff know from personal experience how hard it can be to find the time and energy to stand up for your rights. We commend Traecina and her mother Wendy for their bravery and persistence in seeking justice through the courts, and for the inspiring example they set for all of us.

We heard many familiar echoes in Ms. Claiborne's testimony about how lead has affected her life. Sadly, her experiences exemplify the ugly reality that much of the decades-long burden of this preventable disease has been suffered by low-income families and people of color, perpetuated by existing wealth disparities and made worse by the disempowering forces of racism and and sexism. During the trial, we learned that Mr. Duff owned more than 100 properties in Pawtucket and Central Falls over the course of a career of buying, renting, and selling houses - so many that he was unable to recall the exact number in court. Years before Ms. Claiborne moved into the home where her blood lead level reached a shocking 51 mcg/dL, Mr. Duff had conducted step-by-step work to abate lead hazards at another rental property, guided by a comprehensive lead inspection and compliance monitoring process conducted by the Health Department. It is hard to imagine what other information or training could have been necessary to prepare or motivate him to protect future tenants from lead hazards. It appears to have simply been Mr. Duff's choice to ignore the facts, the law, and his own experiences.

Traecina Claiborne's victory is historic. Although settlements in similar cases are common, this is the only lead poisoning personal injury case we know of that has had a public trial in Rhode Island in the last two decades, if not longer. However, it is equally important to recognize that the legal system was not able to truly provide Traecina with justice. There is nothing the court can do to fix her cognitive impairments and eliminate the challenges she lives with every day. Likewise, this case serves as a reminder that justice for our community as a whole also requires looking beyond the current limitations of the law. It is painfully clear that the pervasive, dysfunctional dynamics of poverty, racism, and sexism will continue to poison more children like Traecina Claiborne until these systems are stopped. Despite the uphill battle ahead, when families like the Claibornes fight back and demand public accountability from those responsible their suffering, they make the longer-term fight to achieve a better society seem both more possible - and more urgent.

For more information about the lawsuit referenced in this statement, see this 7/24/15 press release from Motley Rice, LLC.

For more information about the Childhood Lead Action Project, contact:

Laura Brion
Community Organizer, Childhood Lead Action Project
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
(401) 785-1310, ext. 205

The Childhood Lead Action Project is a local non-profit dedicated to eliminating childhood lead poisoning in Rhode Island through education, parent support, and community organizing.


March 21, 2014

Media Contacts:
Rebecca Morley, National Center for Healthy Housing, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 703.868.0554
Roberta Hazen Aaronson, Childhood Lead Action Project, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 401.785.1310

Senator Jack Reed Honored by National and Local Groups
Credited with “Rebooting” Federal Healthy Homes/Lead Poisoning Prevention Efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

March 21, 2014 Providence, Rhode Island – The National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition and the Childhood Lead Action Project delivered the Child Health Champion Award to U.S. Senator Jack Reed yesterday for securing federal funding for lead poisoning prevention. Lead poisoning is a preventable tragedy that dramatically impacts a child’s health and ability to learn.

 “I am pleased we were able to restore funding for these important lead poisoning prevention programs, but our work is not finished. Millions of Americans, including a staggering number of children and families right here in Rhode Island, remain at risk. We must be proactive and continue to invest in the health and development of our children,” said Senator Reed.

Advocates and health officials were stunned in 2012 when Congress slashed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Homes/Lead Poisoning Prevention Program by 94% --from $29.0 to $2.5 million. Capitol Hill insiders advised that it would take a “miracle” to bring back funding for this program amidst the federal budget battles. The FY14 appropriations bill includes $15 million for the program.

“Senator Reed delivered a miracle for us,” said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing. “Millions of kids will benefit. We simply couldn’t ask for a better and more effective leader in Congress on this issue.”

“We are relieved that the fight against childhood lead poisoning is back on track with funding for the CDC's Healthy Homes/Childhood Lead Poisoning Program. We may be the smallest state but we have some of the biggest champions of lead poisoning prevention in Congress with Senator Reed playing a pivotal role in restoring much needed funds,” said Roberta Hazen Aaronson, executive director of the Childhood Lead Action Project.

Senator Reed established National Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which advocates celebrate nationally every year in October and he has introduced scores of bills on lead poisoning and healthy homes.

“I am honored to accept the National Child Health Champion Award today and thank all the men and women who work hard to reduce lead poisoning and protect children. The effects of lead poisoning cannot be reversed, but thanks to the great work of the National Center for Healthy Housing, the Childhood Lead Action Project, and other leading advocates, more families are getting screened and more communities are proactively adopting strategies to eliminate lead hazards in the home before children are exposed,” said Reed.

Each year Senator Reed leads efforts to maximize funding for HUD’s lead hazard control program and for CDC’s healthy homes/lead poisoning prevention program. HUD helps low-income families address lead-based paint hazards in their homes. CDC collects and disseminates all the data on childhood lead poisoning in the U.S. and its staff serve as the emergency responders to unusual outbreaks of the disease in the U.S. and abroad. The accomplishments of the CDC program are vast, including for example:

  • Being the first to discover that toys imported from China and the Pacific rim contained lead. These products resulted in severe cases of lead poisoning and one death. This work resulted in 1) the largest voluntary recall in the history of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; 2) improved testing of products at the border and 3) led to a new law that reduces the allowable level of lead in consumer products.

  • Uncovering that Refugee children were being exposed to lead upon entering the U.S. The lion’s share of these children were not bringing exposures from refugee camps, but instead were poisoned once relocated to contaminated U.S. housing. CDC worked with the State Department to require blood lead testing for refugee children and to train relocation workers on the dangers of lead hazards to these children.

  • Uncovering lead poisoning epidemics in Burma and Nigeria and worked with those governments to eradicate the sources of exposure.

  • CDC and its state health department partners have used data to identify “repeat offender” properties (properties responsible for multiple poisonings) in many jurisdictions. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing, and the Department of Justice, these data helped to mount an investigation and enforcement actions resulting in more than 200,000 of the most egregious properties being made lead-safe.

Also attending yesterday’s event at the Providence Public Library were state representatives: Art Handy, Raymond Hull, and Scott Slater. Staff from the offices of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman James R. Langevin, and Congressman David Cicilline also attended. Advocates sung their praises as well for supporting the inclusion of funding for lead poisoning prevention in the State budget and for keeping the issue visible nationally.

The Childhood Lead Action Project works to eliminate childhood lead poisoning through education, parent support and advocacy.

The National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition is a network of advocates and practitioners, funded by the Kresge Foundation, with a mission of creating safe and healthy homes for all.


For Immediate Release
December 18, 2013

For more information, contact:
Roberta Hazen Aaronson,
Executive Director,
Childhood Lead Action Project
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
(401) 785-1310x203

The Childhood Lead Action Project commends Judge James Kleinberg of the Superior Court of California for his December 16 decision ordering the lead paint industry to create a $1.1 billion fund to remove lead hazards from California homes.

This is a thrilling victory! Sometimes in this not-so-friendly world, the Goliaths are defeated and justice triumphs. This decision against the lead paint industry is deeply meaningful for families devastated by lead poisoning and for a community that has borne the cost of this industry-made public health disaster.

A quick look at history shows the importance of holding the companies who profited from the sale of lead paint accountable for their actions. While the industry marketed lead-free paint to the European community and protected farm animals from the dangers of lead, children in the United States continued to be exposed to lead-based paint in their cribs, their toys and in their homes. The lead industry knowingly poisoned our children - particularly poor and minority children. It’s long overdue that the industry compensate the community for this tremendous injustice.

Although we remain outraged that our Rhode Island Supreme Court got it wrong in 2008, we are thrilled that Judge Kleinberg recognized the basic facts of the case and came to the right conclusion that the industry was responsible for poisoning California's children. As an organization committed to the cause of eliminating childhood lead poisoning, we savor this historical moment and will continue to advocate for justice for RI's children.


For Immediate Release
May 18, 2012

For more information, contact:
Roberta Hazen Aaronson, 785-1310x203
Laura Brion, 785-1310x205

Who: Childhood Lead Action Project
When: Wednesday, May 23 @ 12:30PM
Where: State House Rotunda

What: A creative action involving colorful children's balls representing the number of lead poisoned kids in RI who will lose critical services if funding for the state's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is not restored immediately. The Childhood Lead Action Project will hold a press conference to request that the state step up to the plate to provide emergency funding to save the program, which was eliminated in the current federal budget despite an increase in the number of lead poisoned children who will depend on this program.

Speakers: Dr. Michael Fine, Director of the RI Department of Health; Representative Art Handy; Derek Brown, parent of 2 lead poisoned children; Jim Vincent, President of the NAACP - Providence Branch; John Kelly, President and Chief Executive Officer of Meeting Street and Roberta Hazen Aaronson, Executive Director of the Childhood Lead Action Project.

Why: Without immediate intervention, the Rhode Island Department of Health's Lead and Healthy Homes Program, along with 34 other state health departments, will be devastated by extreme cuts in funding approved by Congress last December. If the budget cuts remain, Rhode Island's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program will lose its capacity to monitor lead poisoning cases and respond to every child who has an elevated blood lead level with a home inspection and referrals for medical intervention and lead remediation. Additionally, the program's prevention efforts will likely disappear regarding proactive housing policies, community education and outreach.



For Immediate Release
September 8, 2010

Laura Brion, Childhood Lead Action Project, (401) 785-1310, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Sheila Dormody, Clean Water Action, (401) 369-1832, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Protesters: Providence Water Wasting $7.4 Million Each Year and Exceeding EPA Safe Lead Levels

Providence RI – The Lead Pipe Coalition demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB) today to protest the water supplier’s partial lead service line replacements. Protestors with the Coalition threw mock dollars into a sink to illustrate how the potentially dangerous practice is also a waste of millions in tax dollars. Providence Mayoral candidate, Angel Taveras, also joined the protest.

The Providence Water Supply Board’s lead pipe replacement program began three years ago to address high levels of lead in local drinking water. Private contractors hired by the Providence Water Supply Board replace only the portion of the service lines that run from the street up to the sidewalk, leaving in place pipes containing lead between the sidewalk and individual homes.    Full service line replacements rarely occur, because homeowners must pay for the replacement of the service line between the sidewalk and their homes, which can cost $3,000 to $6,000 per home.  
In recent years, concern has grown around new research indicating that partial lead service line replacements can cause increased lead levels in water instead of lowering them.    

“The U.S. EPA has declared that our water supply has dangerously high levels of lead, and Providence needs a real solution to that problem,” said Laura Brion, Community Organizer for the Childhood Lead Action Project. “Partially replacing lead pipes has not been proven to reduce lead in our drinking water and it may even make the problem worse.”

The Coalition noted that the Providence Water Supply Board continues to conduct the potentially hazardous partial replacements of lead drinking water pipes even though the R.I. Department of Health gave them permission to stop the replacement program. In April 2010, the Department of Health authorized the Providence Water Supply Board to end this year’s replacement program because of the concerns raised about partial lead service line replacement and to allow Health to evaluate the data and determine whether a change in direction was appropriate. However, despite growing community opposition, the Providence Water Supply Board has continued this work.
The partial replacement program is a significant expense at $7.4 million per year with no clear evidence that it is reducing lead in our drinking water. The coalition is urging the Providence Water Supply Board to fully replace lead drinking water pipes.

“It is irresponsible to continue wasting $7.4 million every year on partial lead pipe replacements,” said Steve Fischbach, vice chairperson of the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island and a resident of Cranston. “The Providence Water Supply Board needs to do the job right and fully replace the lead pipes.”

In response to concerns about spiking lead levels following partial lead service line replacements, the PWSB has started distributing water filters in the areas where they are doing work, but the Coalition says this fails to provide adequate protection from long-term risks and doesn’t justify continuing to waste money on an ineffective program. The Lead Pipe Coalition remains strongly opposed to the partial replacement work continuing in neighborhoods throughout Cranston, Providence, North Providence, and Johnston.

“The residents in my neighborhood were relieved when Providence Water stopped doing these partial lead pipe replacements in our area,” said Marcus Mitchell, president of the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association. “But moving the construction project to other peoples’ neighborhoods hasn’t solved the problem.”

The Lead Pipe Coalition includes the Mount Hope Neighborhood Association, the Childhood Lead Action Project, Clean Water Action, Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, the Mount Hope Learning Center, and the Mount Hope Community Baptist Church.

Additional Information
Providence Water Supply Board 2010 Lead Service Line Replacement Schedule

Reaction to the Solution: Lead Exposure Following Partial Service Line Replacement. Rebecca Renner, Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2010.

Area’s Water-Pipe Replacement Work Put Off. Philip Marcello, Providence Journal, April 13, 2010.

CDC misled District residents about lead levels in water, House probe finds. Carol Leonnig, Washington Post, May 20, 2010.

Consumer Fact Sheet on Lead in Drinking Water. US Environmental Protection Agency.