Mary Alexander, San Francisco victims' rights attorney, announced that a state Judge in Santa Clara County, California, has ordered paint companies including Sherwin-Williams to pay $1.15 billion, an increase of $50 million from last month's proposed order by the Court, into a fund to be used to remove the lead potentially dangerous to children in hundreds of thousands of homes in ten cities and counties in California. Alexander stated that the verdict came after 13 years of litigation and 5 weeks of trial. Judge James P. Kleinberg said that lead in paint, for which there is no safe level of exposure for children, results in "thousands of children presently and potentially victimized by this chemical." The counties are San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Monterey, Solano, Ventura, and the cities are Oakland and San Diego.
Mary Alexander, an attorney who tried the case for the cities and counties said, "This verdict will prevent lead poisoning of children from paint in their homes. It is a great victory for the people of California." She added, "This decision holds the companies accountable for promoting and selling lead paint for use in homes despite knowing, as far back as the 1890's, that it was highly toxic, especially to young children. This landmark decision recognizes the manufacturers must be held responsible and pay to clean up the hazard they created in homes," she said.
The Judge ordered Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra and NL Industries, formerly known as the National Lead Co., to pay $1.15 billion to establish a fund that the state will administer to remove lead paint from the homes in the 10 cities and counties. There are 4.7 million homes built before 1978 when lead paint was banned, of which 52% have lead paint. Other attorneys for the Plaintiffs were Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy; Motley Rice; and the Law Offices of Peter Earle.
Alexander explained that "each year, thousands of children under six years of age, are lead poisoned, most of them exposed to lead through lead paint in their homes. Lead paint deteriorates over time leaving paint chips and dust that gets on floors, window sills and toys to which young children are exposed. Lead poisoning causes damage to the brain and nervous systems of children and it is permanent and irreversible. The impact is particularly great in minorities and children living in poor housing."
Alexander cited an internal industry document by Sherwin Williams in 1900 which described the paint ingredient white lead as a "deadly cumulative poison". In 1909, a California Supreme case held that ConAgra was responsible for lead poisoning employees in its own lead plant. "Despite this knowledge the companies continued to promote the sale of lead paint in the California cities and counties," Alexander stated.