Rhode Island has taken eight paint manufacturers to court in a first-ever attempt by a state to hold companies accountable for decades of child lead poisoning. Rhode Island, which has one of the highest rates of such poisoning in the country, is claiming the manufacturers created a public nuisance by selling the paint. The paint companies counter that problems stem from improper maintenance, and that landlords, not manufacturers, should be held liable. Other states are following the dispute closely and are poised to initiate similar lawsuits if Rhode Island is successful. Lead paint was banned nationwide in 1978, when it was shown to cause health problems in children, such as learning disabilities, neurological damage, and even death. Last year, 8.1 percent of Rhode Island children under the age of six had elevated lead levels.