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News from:
City Attorney Barbara J. Parker

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Court of Appeal upholds verdict requiring companies to clean up Oakland homes contaminated with lead paint

Paint companies must pay to clean up lead paint in pre-1951 homes in 10 California cities and counties

OAKLAND, CA – City Attorney Barbara J. Parker today released the following statement on the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District’s decision in the lead paint case brought by 10 California cities and counties:

“The Court of Appeal’s decision affirms that major companies cannot knowingly harm Californians and get away with it. Lead paint is prevalent in Oakland homes and disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities. In this case, the defendants knew they were selling a product that poisoned children, yet they continued to sell it and market it as safe. Today’s ruling is not everything we hoped for. However, the Court of Appeal requires that the defendants clean up the vast majority of Oakland homes that contain lead paint, and more importantly, reaffirms that these companies are accountable for the harm their products continue to cause to California’s children.”

Background:

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2000 by then-Santa Clara County Counsel Ann Ravel. Oakland and eight other California cities and counties subsequently joined the case.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal issued a 143-page opinion today vindicating the 2014 trial court ruling, which held defendants – ConAgra Grocery Products, DuPont, NL Industries (formerly National Lead Industries) and Sherwin-Williams – liable for creating a widespread public nuisance. The ruling required them to create a $1.15 billion abatement fund to pay for clean-up of the lead paint nuisance. 

Today’s ruling upheld the trial court’s judgment that a nuisance exists as to homes built before 1951, overturned the judgment as to homes built between 1951-1980, and remanded the case to trial court for further proceedings to adjust the $1.15 billion abatement fund to an amount sufficient to address the problems lead paint poses in homes built before 1951.  That amount will be determined in court. 

The Court of Appeal agreed that lead paint inside homes, especially where children live or visit, is a public nuisance that continues to endanger the health and safety of vulnerable residents to this day. The decision largely upheld the trial court’s ruling applying California’s public nuisance doctrine to the harms interior lead paint causes. Lead paint, when allowed to peel, exposed to friction, or disturbed during construction, can be ingested by young children or pregnant women. When this happens, lead acts as a cumulative neurotoxin and may result in irreversible brain damage. Despite widespread industry knowledge of the hazard, the defendant companies aggressively marketed lead paint for residential use until it became unlawful to do so. As a result, nearly every home built before 1978 contains lead paint hazards.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and California’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, lead paint and its degradation into lead-contaminated dust and soil is the primary cause of lead exposure for children who live in older homes. In 2012, the CDC released a report finding that “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.” Even at the lowest levels, lead causes permanent neurological damage to children, decreasing IQ and causing other serious health consequences.

The following jurisdictions are plaintiffs in this case: 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. 


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