It's been 25 years since lead paint was banned following reports that exposure to the paint caused health problems in children. But paint manufacturers still can't shake their toxic past. Litigation under way in St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and California could require manufacturers to pay to remove paint applied before the 1978 ban. A handful of other states have considered similar suits.
So far, manufacturers have scored the only decisive victory in the class-action battles. Last November, a New Jersey Superior Court judge dismissed a suit brought by 25 municipalities in the state. Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries, and DuPont were among the manufacturers named in the suit.
The New Jersey decision came just days after Rhode Island's groundbreaking suit, the first based on public nuisance laws, ended in a mistrial. (News and Notes, December 2002.)
John Low-Beer, an attorney representing the City of Milwaukee in its suit, says the New Jersey trial did not necessarily set a definitive precedent. But the decision may have won some breathing room for paint makers. Eileen Quinn, assistant director of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, says some states appear to be waiting for a decision against paint makers before joining the fray. Even so, Quinn says, the paint industry should expect more lawsuits. "The problem isn't just going away. The lawsuits won't go away until lead poisoning goes away," Quinn says.
In related news, ICI Paints was recently dismissed from three lead paint suits in Mississippi and Texas after lawyers determined ICI never used lead to manufacture paint. ICI has been dismissed from 16 suits in the last year, including Rhode Island's.