Company Promoting Lead-Based Paint Reaches Settlement with Superior Court
An 18-year-old lawsuit against NL lndustries Inc., formerly known as National Lead Co., has finally reached a settlement. The company is a lead smelting company currently based in Houston, Texas.
NL Industries has encountered legal problems over the years for its long history of selling lead paint, exposure to which can cause numerous health and developmental problems in children and adults. Exposure to lead can cause brain damage, learning disabilities, lowered IQ scores, slowed growth and kidney damage, and has been banned or restricted in many countries. It was banned in the United States in 1978.
Ten California cities and counties announced a $60 million settlement with NL Industries, one of three paint companies responsible for cleaning up lead paint hazards in the areas’ older homes. The agreement announced Wednesday resolves a suit filed by Santa Clara County in Superior Court in 2000 and applies to abatement of interior paint in houses built in the ten cities and counties before 1951.
Others involved in the suit include the counties of Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano and Ventura and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego. The other two companies still in the case are Sherwin-Williams Co., and ConAgra Grocery Products Co., which took over the former Fuller paint company.
In 2014, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled that the three paint distributors created a public nuisance by promoting the use of lead-based paint while knowing that it was harmful. The court originally ordered the companies involved to pay $1.15 billion to abate lead in approximately 3.5 million homes built before 1980 in the ten jurisdictions. Then, in 2017, a state Court of Appeal panel narrowed this to homes built before 1951.
The case against the other two companies remains pending for the Superior Court to determine what will be needed to address lead paint hazards in pre-1951 houses. The Santa Clara County counsel’s office has estimated the remaining amount needed will be $670 million.
As part of the settlement, NL Industries also agreed to withdraw support from a proposed November ballot initiative that would declare that lead paint in homes is not a public nuisance and that paint companies are not liable. The initiative would authorize $3.9 billion in taxpayer-paid state bonds to finance the remediation of lead paint throughout the state.
Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said following the statement, “For nearly two decades, we have been fighting to protect vulnerable young children from the very serious harms caused by lead paint…We are pleased that NL has decided to resolve this matter and that millions of dollars can now go to address the harms to children resulting from toxic lead paint in homes.”
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera called lead paint “a public health crisis” and stated, “This agreement ensures that significant resources go to address that crisis and protect children from this toxic environmental hazard.”
NL Industries’ attorney Andre Pauka submitted the following statement: “Although NL does not agree with the ruling in the courts, and by settling does not admit to any of the claims in the case, NL would prefer that its limited financial resources be used to fund public health programs rather than be spent on continued litigation.”