Lead paint decision now in hands of judge

By Ann Maher | Sep 24, 2013

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Legal Newsline) -- Whether childhood lead poisoning in 10 California cities and counties can be blamed on one-time lead paint and pigment manufacturers is a decision that rests solely in the hands of Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg after a six-week trial that concluded in closing arguments Monday.

Atlantic Richfield Co., ConAgra, DuPont, NL Industries and Sherwin Williams say the plaintiffs failed to prove they promoted residential use of lead paint with contemporaneous knowledge of the hazard because their case rested on "entirely" on hindsight.

Santa Clara County, San Francisco City, Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Monterey County, Oakland City, San Diego City, San Mateo County, Solano County and Ventura County painted a different picture at trial, saying they proved defendants had actual knowledge of hazards of their products but promoted them any way.

Among the many finding-of-fact divides between the public entities and the five paint companies is each side's perspective on the effectiveness of an existing public program that deals with the problem of childhood lead poisoning.

California's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPP) is specifically set up to manage childhood lead poisoning through screenings, education, in-home inspections and interim remediation efforts.

Plaintiffs say that services provided through CLPP don't go far enough in reducing lead poisoning, a problem they contend is the most serious environmental health issue facing children in California and in the 10 plaintiff cities and counties.

They seek abatement - at a cost of $1.6 billion - believing there is no safe level of lead exposure. Even relatively low levels of lead exposure adversely impacts health, they say.

The CLPP programs have "reached their limits," according to plaintiffs.

Alameda County CLPP outreach and communications manager Julie Twichell, who has worked with the program for about 20 years, says it has been successful in increasing awareness and remediating properties.

"There's still a lot of work" to be done, she said.

Plaintiffs and defense also have vast disagreement on the incidence of childhood lead poisoning in the jurisdictions: Plaintiffs say incidence is at epidemic levels and the defense says incidence is negligible.

On behalf of the defendants, spokesperson Bonnie J. Campbell has said the CLPP program is a "public health success story."

Campbell is former Iowa Attorney General.

In an interview last month, Campbell said a study adopted by public health agencies show that blood lead levels in children in the prosecuting jurisdictions are less than 1 percent.

"It 's chasing zero," she said. "There is no public nuisance."

She also said that some programs within the 10 jurisdictions have not used all the money they have been allocated for dealing with elevated blood lead level prevention programs (funded through a tax levied against the paint industry) and "they have never asked for an increase."

Twichell said that in Alameda County, 3 percent of children suffer lead poisoning.

She said that very high blood lead level cases have decreased over time, but that even low levels of exposure can cause long term damage throughout life.

Estimating that 80 percent of the housing stock in the county has lead paint, she said that most families have a risk of facing lead poisoning at some point.

Whether the problem is an epidemic, she didn't say so specifically, but offered, "Epidemic to me means way more than there should be. 3 percent is way more than there should be."

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