Ten California cities and counties led by Santa Clara County on Wednesday announced a $305 million settlement with three paint companies to clean up lead paint hazards to children in older housing.
The settlement ends a 19-year-old public nuisance lawsuit filed against paint companies in Superior Court in 2000 by Santa Clara County, later joined by nine other local governments.
Exposure to deteriorated lead-based paint can cause brain damage, learning disabilities and slowed growth in children. Lead paint was banned for residential use in 1978, but many houses built before then still contain it.
Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said, "Today's settlement holds former lead paint manufacturers responsible for the harm they have caused to generations of California's children."
The three companies are Sherwin-Williams Co.; NL Industries Inc., formerly known as National Lead Industries; and ConAgra Grocery Products Co., which took over the former Fuller paint company. They will each pay one-third of the settlement.
The other local governments that joined the lawsuit are Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano and Ventura counties and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego. They will divide up the funds on the basis of the number of houses with lead paint in each jurisdiction.
In earlier proceedings, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg in 2014 ordered the companies to pay $1.15 billion to abate paint hazards in houses and apartments built before 1980. He concluded they were liable for causing a public nuisance by promoting the use of lead paint while knowing that lead dust harmed children.
But a state appeals court in San Jose in 2017 narrowed the judgment to houses built before 1951, saying that there was no evidence the companies advertised the use of lead-based paint, as opposed to paint in general, after 1951.
Another trial judge then set the total amount at $405 million and the California Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court turned down the paint companies' appeals last year.
But disputes remained about what the funds could be used for and about a four-year time limit for using the money.
The $305 million settlement enables the counties and cities to use the money where it is most needed, including on post-1951 housing and services for children, and removes the four-year restriction.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera stated, "This agreement ensures that significant resources will go to address the lead paint crisis and that local governments have the flexibility to best protect children from this pervasive environmental hazard."
Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said, "This settlement affirms that major companies cannot knowingly harm Californians and get away with it.
"Lead paint is prevalent in Oakland homes and disproportionately impacts African American, Hispanic, Asian and other communities of color and low-income communities," she said.