Firms ordered to fund $1.1 billion lead paint cleanup

Millions of Northern California homes will be covered by the abatement plan

Published December 17, 2013 5:06PM (EST)

   (Mike Flippo/Shutterstock)
(Mike Flippo/Shutterstock)

A 13-year legal case brought about by local governments came to a close Monday when a Northern California judge ordered three companies to remove the lead paint coating the walls of California homes. The removal will target millions of homes, for which the firms -- ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams -- will be responsible to the tune of $1.1 billion. Bloomberg News reports:

Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg in San Jose, California, yesterday tentatively ruled against the companies after a non-jury trial that lasted about five weeks. Two other defendants, Atlantic Richfield Co., a Los Angeles-based unit of BP Plc (BP/), and Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont Co. (DD), won dismissal of the claims against them.

...Kleinberg rejected the manufacturers’ arguments that paint was “not the whole problem,” and that alternate sources of lead contribute to poisoning.

“Consistent with their arguments throughout the trial the defendants rely on statistics and percentages,” Kleinberg wrote. “When translated into the lives of children that is not a persuasive position. The court is convinced there are thousands of California children in the jurisdictions whose lives can be improved, if not saved through a lead abatement plan.”

The prosecution's legal case went back to 1937, when the paint companies were informed behind closed doors of lead's health risks. Between then and 1978, when lead paint was finally banned from public buildings, it was argued, the defendants continued to sell the paint while attempting to cover up the knowledge that it was poisoning children.

The companies argued that they did not know the paint was dangerous, and claim they're being unfairly targeted for “the truthful advertising of lawful products, done at a time when government officials routinely specified those products for use in residential buildings."

Lead paint continues to be the main source of lead poisoning for children who live in older housing, the government stressed in its lawsuit. As the L.A. Times points out, many of the nearly 5 million homes that will potentially benefit from the abatement plan are in low-income neighborhoods.

The companies have 15 days to object to the ruling.

By Lindsay Abrams

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