Lead Paint: A Deadly “Public Nuisance”

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At the end of this week’s edition of Moyers & Company, Bill updates our interview from last year with public health historians Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner , reporting on the recent California court decision that three lead paint companies created “a public nuisance” by concealing the dangers of lead. According to Markowitz and Rosner, the companies “pursued a campaign against the regulation of lead and actively promoted the use of lead paint in homes, despite knowing that it was highly toxic…

“Lead paint was outlawed for residential purposes by the Federal Government more than 35 years ago, yet it is still present in more than five million homes built prior to 1978 in the represented cities and counties, and continues to threaten the health of California’s families and children. In 2009 alone, 10,875 children in the cities and counties prosecuting the case had been poisoned by lead.”

Judge James P. Kleinberg of the Santa Clara Superior Court ruled that “[t]he Defendants against whom judgment is entered, jointly and severally, shall pay to the State of California $1,100,000,00… into a specifically designated, dedicated, and restricted abatement fund.” The more than a billion dollars will be used to remove paint from all homes that meet the fund’s criteria in ten California cities and counties, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego.

The three companies – ConAgra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries, and The Sherwin-Williams Company – plan to appeal. According to their spokesperson, “This decision is more likely to hurt children than help them, and it will likely disrupt the sale, rental, and market value of all homes and apartments built before 1978.” Markowitz and Rosner expect the companies “will try anything,” including an aggressive and expensive public relations campaign, to reverse the ruling.

You can read Judge Kleinberg’s decision here:

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.
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