By PAUL ELIAS
SAN JOSE, Calif.
A state judge on Monday ordered paint companies to pay 10 California cities and counties $1.1 billion to remove lead from millions of older homes.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg found that Conagra Grocery Products Co., NL Industries Inc. and the Sherwin-Williams Co. marketed paint they knew was harmful to children. Atlantic Richfield Co. and DuPont Co. were found not liable.
The industry has faced similar lawsuits across the country but has won most of them.
Kleinberg’s verdict came after a five-week trial without a jury. The companies have 15 days to object to the tentative ruling, which the judge can alter.
Lead-based paints were barred from the U.S. market in 1978, but millions of homes painted before then still pose a health risk.
The industry argued that it never deliberately sold a harmful product and that the old paint is no longer a significant public health risk. The companies argued that children diagnosed with lead poisoning could have gotten sick from sources other than paint.
Bonnie Campbell, a spokeswoman for the companies, said the paint manufacturers will urge the judge to overturn his decision. Failing that, she said the companies will seek a mistrial. If the judge upholds his verdict, Campbell said the companies will appeal.
Campbell said the verdict unfairly penalizes companies for marketing lead-based paint in good faith before the health risks were known. She said the current owners of pre-1978 painted homes should be responsible for removing the lead.
Exposure to lead is linked to learning disabilities and other health problems, especially in children. Some 60,000 children under the age of 6 suffered from lead poisoning between 2007 and 2010 alone in the jurisdictions who filed the lawsuit, the judge noted.
Data from the 2010 census show that close to 5 million homes at issue in the lawsuit were built before lead paint was banned in 1978. Homes built before then are presumed to have been painted with lead paint.
The case has taken 13 years to reach trial because of objections from the industry, but appeals courts have allowed it to proceed. It alleges the manufacturers knew of lead-paint dangers starting in the 1890s but still sold it to consumers without health warnings.
The ten cities and counties awarded damages Monday are the counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura, and the cities of Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco.