Former Lead Paint Makers on Trial in CA

MONDAY, JULY 22, 2013

Ten California cities and counties want five paint manufacturers to pay nearly $1 billion to strip lead paint from millions of older California homes in a case that dates back to 2000.

In a trial that began July 15 before Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg, the plaintiffs argue that the defendant-manufacturers marketed, promoted, and profited from lead-based paint despite knowing it was toxic to children.

The cities and counties claim that the companies created a public nuisance that continues to threaten the health of California’s children, according to the plaintiffs’ trial brief.

However, the paint makers say they never deliberately sold a hazardous product and argue that lead paint no longer presents a significant public health threat in the state.

As of Friday (July 19), testimony presented in the case has focused on the plaintiffs' expert health witness epidemiologist Bruce Lanphear, according to a report on Legal Newsline.

The Parties, Case

The plaintiffs (representing the People of California) are Santa Clara County, Alameda County, the City of Oakland, the City and County of San Francisco, the City of San Diego, Los Angeles County, Monterey County, San Mateo County, Solano County, and Ventura County.

The manufacturer-defendants are Atlantic Richfield Co., ConAgra Grocery Products Co., E.I. du Pont de Nemours (DuPont), NL Industries Inc., and the Sherwin-Williams Co.

The lawsuit, People of California v. Atlantic Richfield Co. et. Al., has dragged on for many years and is the last remaining public nuisance case against the former manufacturers of lead-based paint and pigment in the U.S. Similar claims in seven other states have either been dismissed or rejected by courts or juries.

Lead Paint Hazards

The U.S. government banned the use of lead paint in homes in 1978.

Lead exposure has been linked to neurological damage in children, decreasing IQ and other serious health concerns.

Los Angeles
Marshal Astor / Wikimedia Commons

The California governments, including Los Angeles County, say the former lead-based paint manufacturers should pay to remediate the alleged lead nuisance.

In 2012, the CDC released a report, the CDC Response to Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Recommendations in "Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call of Primary Prevention," finding that "no safe blood lead level in children has been identified."

"For 13 years, we have waited for our day in court,” said Owen Clements, chief of special litigation for the City and County of San Francisco.

“Every day that goes by without cleaning up lead paint is another day when a child may be needlessly poisoned.”

Plaintiffs Seek Abatement

The California governments claim that the paint makers were aware of the dangers of lead-based paint as early as the late 1890s, but sold lead-based paint to consumers without warning for decades.

“Through this lawsuit we will force the defendants to clean up lead paint, and prevent our children from being poisoned once and for all,” said assistant Santa Clara county counsel Danny Chou.

child at window
County of Marin, CA

Lead exposure has been linked to neurological damage in children, decreasing IQ and other serious health concerns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and California's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, lead paint is the primary cause of lead exposure for children who live in older homes, the plaintiffs note.

In 2009, 10,875 children in the cities and counties prosecuting the case had been poisoned by lead, according to a news release from the governments.

They want the companies to abate the alleged lead paint nuisance in more than 5 million pre-1979 housing units located in the California jurisdictions.

Former Lead-based Paint Makers ‘Puzzled’

The companies, however, find the case “puzzling,” and argue that there is “no public nuisance,” a representative for the defendants, Bonnie J. Campbell, a former Attorney General of Iowa, said in a statement.

“When interior lead-based paint was made in the early decades of the 20th Century, it was a legal product in great demand because it was washable and durable, and the currently reported risks to children were unknown and unknowable,” she said.

She said knowledge of the risks associated with the substance developed over the century and changed dramatically after 1970.

The companies voluntarily ceased marketing lead-based interior paint decades ahead of federal action, she noted.

Further, Campbell says that federal and California governmental agencies have decided that lead paint, if well maintained and intact, typically poses no public health risk.

“Abating intact lead paint can be dangerous because it disrupts paint that is otherwise posing no risk, and creates lead dust accessible to children,” Campbell said, adding that the remedy sought by the plaintiffs is at odds with “every federal statute, California law and local ordinance applicable to lead.”


Tagged categories: Coatings manufacturers; Coatings Technology; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Lead; Lead paint abatement

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