Web Date: March 21, 2007
Paint Makers Appeal State Ruling
Two former lead paint and pigment makers found to be responsible for creating a public nuisance in Rhode Island have filed appeals to the state's Supreme Court. Their actions follow a final order from a lower court that put them on the hook to clean up lead paint in 240,000 homes and buildings throughout the state at a potential cost of more than $1 billion.
Paint maker Sherwin-Williams and pigment maker NL Industries filed their appeals last week just after the lower court ordered them to draft and implement a cleanup plan. Pigment maker Millennium Holdings was also included in the order. A spokesman for Lyondell Chemical, which owns Millennium, says it "will continue to fight" against the order and also plans to appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Widely used in homes prior to 1955 and banned by the federal government in 1978, lead carbonate-containing paints deteriorate to a dust, threatening children's developing brains and nervous systems.
Efforts in Rhode Island to make former manufacturers of lead paint pay to remediate lead-paint-covered walls date back to 1999. The state's first suit against paint makers ended in a mistrial in 200 2. Along the way, the state dropped ICI's Glidden unit from the case. DuPont was dropped as well in exchange for a $12.5 million donation to lead awareness organizations.
With the help of well-known plaintiff litigation firm Motley Rice, however, state Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch filed a new suit based on a public nuisance charge that prevented paint makers from using product liability defenses. His actions resulted in a jury verdict against the three paint makers in February and the final superior court order last week.
Other state and municipality officials have closely watched developments in this on-again, off-again case as they consider actions of their own. New York City, Milwaukee, and St. Louis had at one time all filed actions against the paint makers. But many jurisdictions dropped their suits, particularly after the 2002 Rhode Island mistrial.
After the February 2006 verdict in the Rhode Island case, a California state appeals court revived a lawsuit originally filed in 2000 against eight former manufacturers of lead-based paints and pigments (C&EN, March 13, 2006, page 11). Santa Clara County originally brought the suit and is now joined by other California cities and counties. If successful, it would force the paint makers to underwrite the removal of lead paint from low-income housing in these jurisdictions.
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