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City Attorney Barbara J. Parker

Monday, October 15, 2018

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker statement on U.S. Supreme Court denying review of historic lead paint case

High court’s decision marks the end of nearly two decades of litigation against lead paint companies

OAKLAND, CA — City Attorney Barbara J. Parker today released the following statement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to review the lawsuit 10 California cities and counties brought against lead paint companies.

“The Supreme Court’s decision again affirms that private companies, no matter how powerful or big they are, must face consequences when they knowingly harm people. 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 and market it as safe. It is long past time for these companies to be held accountable for the harm their products have caused and continue to cause in homes throughout Oakland and California.”


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.

County of Santa Clara v. Atlantic Richfield Co. et al., Santa Clara Superior Court, case no. 1-00-CV-788657

The lawsuit alleged that defendants ConAgra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries, Inc., and the Sherwin-Williams Company aggressively marketed lead paint, even though they knew it was highly toxic to young children, and thereby created a public nuisance that threatens the health of California’s children to this day.

When lead paint is allowed to peel, exposed to friction or disturbed during construction, young children or pregnant women can ingest it. When this happens, lead acts as a cumulative neurotoxin and may result in irreversible brain damage. Despite widespread industry knowledge of the hazard, the defendants continued to market lead paint as safe for residential use until it became unlawful to do so. As a result, nearly every home built before 1978 contains lead paint hazards.

In 2013, Honorable Judge James P. Kleinberg of Santa Clara Superior Court issued a $1.15 billion judgment in favor of the cities and counties, ruling that NL Industries, ConAgra and Sherwin-Williams were liable for the harm that they created.

In November 2017, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District upheld the verdict for pre-1951 homes tainted with lead paint, overturned it as to homes built between 1951-1980, and remanded the case to trial court for further proceedings to limit the $1.15 billion abatement fund to an amount sufficient to address the problems lead paint poses in pre-1951 housing. 

The California Supreme Court denied review of the case in February 2018.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle later ruled that the abatement fund should be set at $409 million to cover pre-1951 housing.

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. The California Legislature has declared that “childhood lead exposure represents the most significant childhood environmental problem in the state today.” (Health & Safety Code § 124125)

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.  Co-counsel included the law firms of Altshuler Berzon LLP, Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Motley Rice LLP, Mary Alexander and Associates, and the Law Offices of Peter Earle.

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