Web Date: September 20, 2007
Rhode Island Seeks Lead Paint Cleanup
Rhode Island officials are seeking court approval of a plan that would require three former manufacturers of lead-based paint that lost a lawsuit last year to pay an estimated $2.4 billion to fund the cleanup of hundreds of thousands of contaminated homes throughout the state.
Under a proposal submitted to the state supreme court on Sept. 14 by Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, Millenium Holdings, Sherwin-Williams, and NL Industries would be required to cover the costs of lead testing and abatement in an estimated 240,000 housing units and several hundred schools and child-care centers over a four-year period.
"Our plan calls for houses and other properties to be identified and abated through measures that are designed to last for the life of the structure, thereby protecting children before they are harmed," Lynch says. "It achieves what has never before been achieved here in Rhode Island or nationally: a long-term solution that will, ultimately, bring about true primary prevention."
The federal government banned lead paint in homes in 1978, so the companies stopped making the product decades ago. Exposure to lead is considered especially dangerous for young children, who can suffer brain damage if they breathe in lead dust or eat lead paint chips.
In February 2006, a Rhode Island jury found that lead-based paint constitutes a public nuisance and that the three companies are financially liable because they made and sold the paint. While the case is being appealed (C&EN, March 26, page 26), Superior Court Judge Michael A. Silverstein ordered the state to begin implementing the verdict, a move that led to the state???s proposal.
Silverstein, who could order a less sweeping cleanup plan, has asked the companies to respond to the proposal by Nov. 15. The state will then have until Dec. 15 to rebut the companies??? arguments.
In a joint statement, the three companies call the abatement plan "an astonishingly expensive and intrusive public works experiment." They argue blood tests show that lead levels in the state???s children have declined and that the lead paint problem is largely limited to small areas of poorly maintained housing. The companies say they expect the Rhode Island Supreme Court to "recognize the errors at trial and dismiss the case."
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