A court ruling against three major paint manufacturers could dramatically change the way lead is removed from old homes in California, particularly in southern California. On Monday a judge ordered Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra and NL Industries to pay $1.1 billion into a fund to remove lead paint from inside millions of homes. The judge said the firms sold lead paint for decades even though they knew it was dangerous. If the verdict stands, L.A. County will get a majority of the money - $605 million.
Lead paint was banned for residential use in 1978. But in L.A. County, about 1.5 million homes still contain it. Children who ingest even small amounts of lead can develop neurological problems and diminished IQs.
Currently, L.A.'s public health department sends an inspector to the home of every child whose blood test shows lead above a certain level. In most cases, removing the lead from the home is the property owner's responsibility, which can cost thousands of dollars.
"That's exactly what makes this a landmark case," said Linda Kite, Executive Director of the nonprofit Healthy Homes Collaborative, which works to prevent lead poisoning in L.A. "This money will be available to actually do the repairs."
Kite says one problem with how the system currently works is that often the county's abatement order comes too late.
"We wait until children have lost around seven IQ points until we start to investigate their environment, for a disease that is fully preventable," she said.
L.A. County Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding said in a statement that the county is still working to understand what the verdict means for its ability to implement a lead abatement program.
But he said the priority would be homes in low-income communities. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the three paint companies indicated they would appeal the verdict.
For more information about lead abatement:
The California Department of Public Health's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch.
The L.A. County Public Health Department's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
The Center for Disease Controls and Prevention's Healthy Homes/Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.