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Industry Must Remove Lead Paint in Millions of Older Homes, Judge Rules

Posted By On Behalf of Sullivan & Brill, LLP || 20-Dec-2013

In a historic decision, Judge Kleinberg in California ordered three paint companies to pay for lead paint removal from millions of older homes in the state; the levied fines total more than $1 billion. The $1.1 billion fine is meant for the lead paint removal from some 4.7 million homes in California; many located in low-income areas, CBS Nightly News reported. A paint company spokesperson said the ruling will be appealed, claiming that the paint companies were not aware of the hazards of lead paint in prior decades.

The judge disagreed with these claims, saying that the three companies have long been aware of the significant hazards associated with lead paint well before the federal ban that was put in place in 1978. In fact, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg pointed to corporate documents that went as far back as 1900, citing ConAgra Grocery Products Co. and NL Industries Inc. documents that indicated the firms were marketing lead-based paints they knew were harmful, according to the AP. The judge also revealed a Sherwin-Williams newsletter from 1900 that indicated that lead-based paints presented a "deadly cumulative poison," as well as a 1922 advertisement in which the firm claimed its paint was safe

Some 50 lawsuits have been filed nationwide over the past two and a-half decades and were brought by public agencies seeking to remove lead-based paint from the nearly 5 million homes built before the federal ban, according to the AP. The industry has long argued against removing the paint, saying that older homes may have several paint layers, which makes it impossible to determine what layer contains lead; that lead is also found in toys, jewelry, and water; that industry never intentionally sold a dangerous product; and that old paint does not present a serious public health risk, according to the AP report.

In his 110-page decision, Judge Kleinberg wrote, "In the 1920s, scientists from the Paint Manufacturers Association reported that lead paint used on the interiors of homes would deteriorate, and that lead dust resulting from this deterioration would poison children and cause serious injury," adding that, "It was accepted by the medical and scientific community before the 1950s, as reflected in literature from as early as 1894, that lead paint was a significant cause of childhood lead poisoning," the AP reported.

The Mayo Clinic warns that even low levels of lead can lead to bodily damage over time, with children especially susceptible to this exposure, which may lead to permanent brain damage. At higher levels, lead exposure may damage the kidneys and nervous systems of people of any age. High lead levels may lead to seizures and lack of consciousness and, even, death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that lead exposure may lead to a number of health problems, including learning disabilities often seen in children living in older homes in poorer neighborhoods, the AP reported. The CDC estimates that, in 2013, some 535,000 children tested with what it described as dangerously high blood lead levels.

Sources:

  • The Associated Press; $1.1B California Paint Ruling May Prompt New Suits; by Paul Elias; December 17, 2013; http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_LEAD_PAINT_COURT_BATTLE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-12-17-19-02-58
  • CBS Evening News; California Judge Orders $1.1 Billion Lead Paint Cleanup; by Ben Tracy; December 17, 2013; http://www.cbsnews.com/news/calif-judge-orders-11-billion-lead-paint-cleanup/
  • The Mayo Clinic; Lead poisoning; The Mayo Clinic Staff; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lead-poisoning/FL00068/DSECTION=symptoms