SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – After nearly two decades of fighting, lead paint maker NL Industries agreed Wednesday to pay 10 California counties $60 million to remove toxic lead paint from homes in a settlement agreement.
“The hazards of lead paint have created a public health crisis for communities in California and across our nation,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement late Wednesday. “This agreement ensures that significant resources go to address that crisis and protect children from this toxic environmental hazard.”
The historic settlement arises from a 2000 public nuisance lawsuit filed by then-Santa Clara County Counsel Ann Ravel.
Joined by San Francisco in 2001, the lawsuit claimed former lead paint manufacturers NL Industries, ConAgra Grocery Product and Sherwin-Williams Company aggressively marketed lead paint, banned for residential use in 1978 but still present in millions of California homes.
San Diego, Oakland, and the counties of Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Alameda, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura were also added as plaintiffs.
In 2013, California Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg awarded the plaintiffs $1.15 billion, finding the companies liable for pushing the paint despite knowing it was highly toxic, especially to children.
“The existence of other sources of lead exposure has no bearing on whether lead paint constitutes a public nuisance,” Kleinberg wrote in his ruling. “It does not change the fact that lead paint is the primary source of lead poisoning for children in the jurisdictions who live in pre-1978 housing.”
An appellate court in 2017 upheld Kleinberg’s ruling as to the defendants’ liability for homes built before 1951, but overturned it as to homes built between 1951 and 1980. The case was remanded back to state court to determine how to dispense the abatement fund. The California Supreme Court denied review of the case earlier this year.
As part of the settlement, NL Industries, formerly known as the National Lead Company, also agreed to withdraw its support for a November ballot initiative to invalidate the judgment; the so-called Healthy Homes and Schools Act, that would declare lead paint no longer a public nuisance and saddle taxpayers with the $3.9 billion cost of the clean-up over 35 years.
NL attorney Andre Pauka said in a statement that the company doesn’t agree with the judgment and admits to no wrongdoing, but “would prefer that its limited financial resources be used to fund public health programs rather than be spent on continued litigation.”
He added, “Subject to the court’s approval, NL will be able to put this litigation behind it and provide funds for the jurisdictions to address lead paint in the manner they believe is most effective to protect health.”
The cities and counties are still arguing in court with ConAgra and Sherwin-Williams over how much money is necessary to remove lead paint from pre-1951 homes.