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Partial Win For Cities And Counties Suing Over Lead Paint

Chitose Suzuki / AP Photo

Contractors Luis Benitez, foreground, and Jose Diaz, background, clean up lead paint at a contaminated building in Providence, R.I., Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006

Chitose Suzuki / AP Photo

A California appeals court has ordered three major paint companies to pay for removing lead paint hazards, but only in older homes.

The Sixth Appellate District Court in San Jose ruled Tuesday Sherwin Williams, NL Industries and ConAgra Company must pay for lead paint cleanup in homes built before 1951.

This latest decision in a case that started back in 2000 isn't a total win for the counties and cities who brought the suit. Santa Clara, San Francisco, Solano, Ventura, Monterey, and others sued, along with the cities of Oakland and San Diego.

They wanted paint companies to address issues in homes built all the way up to 1978, when lead paint was officially banned from homes.

“It was still being sold,” says Mary Alexander, one of the attorneys representing the cities and counties. “That’s why 1978 was chosen.”

But the court said there wasn't any evidence that the paint companies were continuing to market the lead paint for home use after 1951. 

Attorney Andre Pauka represents one of the paint companies. He says the court's decision reduced the number of affected homes by about two thirds.

"It's a significant reduction," Pauka said. "We're glad the appellate court focused on this issue in the correct way."

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrara lauded the decision as a major win for the city, where he says more than two third of the homes were built before 1951. But for other plaintiffs in the case, like the City of San Diego, the bulk of homes were built much later.

According to court documents  there are 300,000 housing units built in San Diego before 1978, but only 20 percent of those were built pre-1951.

Pauka says the paint companies aren't at fault at all, the property owners are."If they're maintaining the paint properly, there's not going to be a problem with the paint in the residence." He said the companies are planning to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.   

Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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