A company that sold lead paint for decades while knowing full well the danger it posed to children has been ordered by California courts to cough up $60 million for remediation.
Officials in Santa Clara County—one of several jurisdictions to sue paint manufacturers—announced the settlement with NL Industries on Wednesday, which marked the end of an 18-year legal battle.
“For nearly two decades, we have been fighting to protect vulnerable young children from the very serious harms caused by lead paint,” County Counsel James Williams said in a news release. “We are pleased that NL has decided to resolve this matter and that millions of dollars can now go to address the harms to children resulting from toxic lead paint in homes.”
NL Industries is one of three defendants in the case, which also claims that Sherwin-Williams Company and ConAgra Grocery Products created a public nuisance by marketing toxic paint.
All three companies are fighting to overturn the ruling, which requires them to clean up the toxic pigment in 10 cities and counties throughout the state. The paint makers dispatched an army of lobbyists to sway lawmakers while pumping $6 million into a ballot initiative that would get taxpayers to pick up a $3.9 billion cleanup tab instead.
NL Industries, however, agreed to withdraw its support for that ballot initiative as part of this week’s settlement agreement.
“Although NL does not agree with the ruling in the courts, and by settling does not admit to any of the claims in the case, NL would prefer that its limited financial resources be used to fund public health programs rather than be spent on continued litigation,” NL’s attorney Andre Pauka said in a prepared statement. “Subject to the court’s approval, NL will be able to put this litigation behind it and provide funds for the jurisdictions to address lead paint in the manner they believe is most effective to protect health.”
The court decision, which the state Supreme Court declined to review on appeal, requires paint companies to pay into a fund to remove lead paint from homes built before 1951 in California’s most populous counties. The amount ConAgra and Sherwin-Williams will have to pay has yet to be determined.
The industry-backed ballot measure would invalidate this week’s historic court ruling and prevent similar lawsuits in the future. It would put taxpayers on the hook for $2 billion in bonds to clean up mold, asbestos and lead paint. Repaying the bonds with interest would cost the public $3.9 billion.