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
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.
- 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