Lynch unveils lead paint plan

By John O'Brien | Sep 19, 2007

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - With lead paint suits falling all around him, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch recently went through with the filing of a $2.4 billion lead paint-removal plan.

The plan will abate lead in 240,000 housing units in Rhode Island, the only state that has held paint companies liable for the "public nuisance" caused by the lead paint they manufactured before it was outlawed almost 30 years ago.

"Our plan offers a detailed, comprehensive and permanent solution to the generations-old but still urgent problem of lead-poisoning in our state," Lynch said. "It achieves what has never before been achieved, either here in Rhode Island or nationally: a long-term solution that will ultimately bring about true primary prevention."

A Superior Court jury upheld a lower court ruling that said Sherwin-Williams, Millennium Holdings and NL Industries were liable under a claim of public nuisance.

The idea for the public nuisance suit was introduced to the State by plaintiffs firm Motley Rice, which needed a way around the defenses each paint company could use in a products liability claim, such as the now-tolled statute of limitations.

Similar suits have failed in the supreme courts of New Jersey, Wisconsin and Missouri. Ohio's Supreme Court also recently ruled the veto of a tort reform invalid, enforcing a measure that does not allow public nuisance claims in lead paint issues.

Lynch said his abatement plan addresses problems on a "worst first" priority basis and is "designed to respect the needs of both property owners and occupants."

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ordered the planning of the abatement process in May.

The paint companies will have until Nov. 15 to respond to the plan, and the State will have another month for a rebuttal. Lynch says approximately 10,000 workers will be needed to carry out the plan.

The companies' appeal is awaiting hearing in the state's Supreme Court.

"It represents a tremendous step forward for public health now and well into the future. It envisions a clear beginning and end," Lynch said. "I am proud that my office has worked so hard to bring this case to the point where, finally, Rhode Island has a permanent solution to our lead-poisoning problem."

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