akland, CA – After nearly 20 years of hard-fought litigation, Oakland and nine other cities and counties have secured a $305 million settlement from lead paint manufacturers to clean up lead paint that poisons tens of thousands of children across California each year.
County of Santa Clara, et al. v. Atlantic Richfield Company, et al., Santa Clara County Superior Court, Case No. 1-00-CV-788657
Under the settlement agreement announced today, defendants Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra Grocery Products and NL Industries, Inc. will pay $305 million to the Counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura; the City and County of San Francisco; and the Cities of Oakland and San Diego to address lead paint-related hazards, which continue to be one of the most significant environmental hazards for children in California and around the country.
“This settlement affirms that major companies cannot knowingly harm Californians and get away with it,” Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said. “Lead paint is prevalent in Oakland homes and disproportionately impacts African American, Hispanic, Asian and other 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 market it as safe and sell it on a massive scale – in fact most homes built before 1978 contain lead paint hazards. These funds will make it possible to clean up the homes of our most vulnerable residents, and the settlement reaffirms that these companies are accountable for the harm their products continue to cause to California’s children.”
The settlement allows the ten cities and counties to access abatement funds without further delay, and gives the cities and counties greater flexibility to create more expansive, efficient and effective clean-up programs tailored to the needs of their communities.
“Today’s settlement holds former lead paint manufactures responsible for the harm they have caused to generations of California’s children,” Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams said. “This settlement is a victory for children and families throughout California. We have fought to hold these companies accountable for nearly twenty years, and will finally have needed funds to devote to protecting our children from lead poisoning.”
In 2000, the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office filed this landmark case to hold former lead paint manufacturers responsible for promoting lead paint for use in homes despite their knowledge that the product was highly toxic. Oakland and the other cities and counties joined thereafter.
Young children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, the effects of which are irreversible. Although lead paint was banned for residential use in 1978, it is still present in millions of homes in California and continues to be to the leading cause of childhood lead poisoning in California.
In 2014, after a six-week trial, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled that three former lead paint manufacturers – Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra Grocery Products and NL – were liable for knowingly marketing a toxic product. The court ordered the defendants to provide the funds needed to clean up lead paint in all homes built before 1978 in the ten cities and counties.
In 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld the Superior Court’s decision, but limited the defendants’ liability to pre-1951 homes. The California Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court each declined to review the Court of Appeal’s precedent-setting decision.
Prior to settlement, the People and the defendants were continuing to litigate issues related to the final judgment and the process through which defendants would pay for the lead paint clean-up ordered by the California courts. The court had imposed a time limit of four years on the use of the funds allotted for abatement, after which remaining funds would be returned to the defendants. The court also had restricted the funds to certain kinds of remediation projects, excluding homes built after 1950 and areas contaminated by exterior paint, for example.
Today’s settlement gives cities and counties the flexibility to clean up those and other types of lead hazards. It also allows the funds to go to treatment programs for children with lead poisoning. In addition, it ensures that all of the $305 million paid by the defendants can be used to address lead hazards, without the threat that any of the funds will revert back to the defendants.
The ten cities and counties will now divide the settlement funds based on the amount of homes with lead paint in their jurisdictions. They will then set up local clean-up programs designed to meet the needs in each city or county.
The case was litigated on behalf of the People of the State of California by the County Counsel and City Attorneys of the County of Santa Clara, the County of Alameda, the City of Oakland, the City and County of San Francisco, the City of San Diego, the County of Los Angeles, the County of Monterey, the County of San Mateo, the County of Solano, and the County of Ventura. The County Counsel and City Attorney’s Offices litigated this case in collaboration with the law firms of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Motley Rice LLC, Mary Alexander & Associates PC, the Law Office of Peter Earle, and Altshuler Berzon LLP.
For more information on the history of the case, please visit www.sccgov.org/leadpaint.