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NAACP ready to sue firms over lead paint

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NEW ORLEANS — NAACP president Kweisi Mfume says the civil rights organization is preparing to sue the lead paint industry in an effort to hold it accountable for health problems linked to lead in paint.

Mfume, who announced the planned lawsuit Sunday, said more details would be released later this week during the 92nd annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He did not specify which companies would be sued.

"For us it's a civil rights issue because you ought to have every reasonable expectation that as an American, you have the right to grow up in an environmentally safe situation, where you're not put at risk," Mfume said.

Lead-based paint was widely used in homes until it was banned in 1978. At high levels, lead can cause kidney damage, seizures, coma and death. Children are most commonly exposed to lead by inhaling lead-paint dust or eating paint flakes.

"This affects everybody," Mfume said. "This is not a black problem in the ghetto or in white suburbia. It's everywhere these houses exist."

During the group's convention, which runs through Thursday, NAACP leaders are expected to tackle issues of criminal justice, election reform and diversity on television.

Earlier Sunday, NAACP board chairman Julian Bond lashed out at President Bush's record in his first months in office, criticizing some of his Cabinet choices and denouncing his faith-based initiative.

Bush has "appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing, and he picked Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection," Bond said.

About 4,500 gathered to hear Bond's speech, applauding and laughing at some of his criticisms.

"I'm hopeful maybe this will rally us," said Kay Porter of Garland, Texas. In 2004, "hopefully we'll have a Democratic president."

"The comments made by Mr. Bond are another reminder about why the tone in Washington needs to be changed," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.

Bond especially assailed the civil rights records of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"The president who promised to unite, not divide, chose as a secretary of the interior a woman who opposed racially equitable scholarships, a woman who refused to defend her state's support of a business fairness program," Bond said.

And for the nation's top law enforcement officer, Bond said Bush chose "a man who doesn't believe in many of the civil rights laws he's sworn to enforce — affirmative action, racial profiling, hate crimes, voting rights."

A Bush spokesman defended the president's choices.

"The president is proud of his record and the record of his Cabinet," said spokesman Jimmy Orr. "The president's Cabinet and staff are made up of accomplished and diverse individuals."

The administration's tax cut and its faith-based initiative, which would allow government funds to flow to churches, mosques and synagogues that seek to ease social woes, were also targets of criticism.

Bush has asserted that church-based groups receiving government funds should be able to refuse employment to people outside their religion. Critics, including Bond, contend this could amount to government-funded discrimination.

The plan "threatens to erase 60 years of civil rights protections," Bond said. "There are many, many ways to strengthen religiously based organizations that work in our communities without gutting important civil rights."

Bond said the Bush administration's tax cut "placed funding for important programs in a lockbox, raiding the treasury for a decade, closing the door on government aid for children, for schools, for the poor."

Orr said Bush's "commitment to equal opportunity and equal justice is demonstrated with sweeping public school reform that fights to leave no child behind, proven help for the nation's poor with the faith-based and community initiative and his call for an end to racial profiling."

Bush was invited to address the gathering but was unable to because of a scheduling conflict, NAACP officials said. Instead, he sent a videotaped greeting that will be played during the convention.

On the Net:

NAACP: www.naacp.org