$305 Million Settlement Reached in 20-Year Fight Over Lead Paint

A can of Dutch Boy Lead Paint. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

(CN) – Two decades of litigation between California municipalities and paint manufacturers culminated in a $305 million settlement Wednesday to help remove the health blight of lead paint from houses across the state.

A consortium of paint makers – including Sherman Williams, ConAgra Grocery Products and NL Industries – announced the settlement with Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano and Ventura counties, and San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego to address health hazards related to lead paint, one of the most significant sources of poisons for young and developing children.

“Today’s settlement holds former manufacturers of lead paint responsible for the harm they have caused to generations of California’s children,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams. “We have fought to hold these companies accountable for nearly 20 years, and will finally have needed funds to devote to protecting our children from lead poisoning.”

Santa Clara County sued in 2000, with the county attorneys claiming several large paint manufacturers had been marketing and selling lead-based paint despite knowing for years that it was poisonous to developing children.

Children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from paint, because playing on the floor while spending time indoors can cause them to inhale paint dust that contains lead. Children will also eat paint chips and other contaminated items.

Lead poisoning can cause an array of health problems in young children including developmental delays, learning difficulties, sluggishness, deafness and seizures.

Lead paint was banned in 1978, but its presence lingers in millions of California homes – particularly in low-income neighborhoods – and continues to be the single biggest contributor to lead poisoning in children.

“Lead paint is prevalent in Oakland homes and disproportionately impacts African-American, Hispanic, Asian and other communities of color and low-income communities,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker in a statement.

Following Santa Clara, San Francisco sued in 2001 and the other cities and counties joined the fray in the intervening years.

In 2014, a Santa Clara County judge ruled three main paint makers named in the suit willingly sold and marketed their products despite being aware of lead’s health dangers. The ruling came after a six-week trial and was later upheld on appeal in 2017.

The paint manufacturers continued to fight various aspects of the final judgment, but the settlement will provide cities and counties the funds and flexibility needed to begin immediate remediation projects.

For instance, the final ruling stipulates remediation funds should only be used on houses built prior to 1951, and can’t be used to remove exterior paint.

City and county representatives said the settlement money will be put to immediate use in ways that will address the most pressing problems.

“These funds will make it possible to clean up the homes of our most vulnerable residents,” Parker said.


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