The Unvarnished Truth about Toxic Lead Paint

Paint manufacturers knew the risks of lead paint. They poisoned generations of kids anyway.

Now the legislature must step in to continue to protect homeowners. Giant paint manufacturers spent decades selling toxic lead paint to California homeowners when they knew the risks to human life:

  • Brain damage
  •  Kidney damage
  •  Infertility
  •  Serious developmental and behavioral challenges in children

“Warnings about children's propensity to gnaw on painted surfaces and become poisoned with lead were common in medical journals by the 1920s. By the 1930s, parents were warned to avoid using lead-based decorative materials in children's nurseries and bedrooms. Yet the industry kept promoting residential lead paint by advertising its durability. Vintage evidence produced in court indicated that the industry reckoned that childhood lead poisoning was chiefly a slum problem — ‘most of the cases are in Negro and Puerto Rican families," an industry lobbyist wrote to a federal official in 1956.” – Los Angeles Times, 1/18/18 1.

They sold poison – especially to communities of color and low-income families. Finally, in 2014, a California court demanded justice. Ten California cities and counties suing the lead paint manufacturers proved that the corporate giants were aware of lead paint dangers and disregarded them, and that this negligence created a widespread public nuisance. The plaintiffs pointed to a 1937 document from the companies’ own doctors showing that lead- based paint could lead to lead poisoning.

“Trial evidence suggested that the industry saw the risk of health effects from lead paint to be chiefly a PR problem, with the dangers mostly concentrated in low-income ethnic neighborhoods.” – Los Angeles Times, 11/15/2017 2

Late last year, the key legal finding — that the companies created a widespread public nuisance — was upheld by a state appellate court. The companies are now legally liable, up to $650 million, for lead in houses built before 1950. With so much indisputable evidence, the poison paint companies know they’re facing more judgements. In news articles and in the Capitol, they’re spreading misinformation about the case to convince lawmakers to reverse the judgement.

  • The judgement says the companies’ knowing, wrongful actions to put lead paint in Californians’ homes created a public nuisance – a public health threat — that the negligent companies must abate. Not one California home is labeled a “public nuisance” by the legal judgement against the paint companies.
  • The legal judgement against the paint companies does not impose any civil or criminal liability, loss, fee or tax on property owners. In fact, the judgement decreases homeowners’ liability for lead paint and puts responsibility to pay for abatement on the paint companies in the 10 jurisdictions to which it applies.
  • The paint companies’ wild misrepresentations demonstrate the legislature must protect homeowners from being targeted again. Poison paint is still in many California homes built before 1978, putting another generation of kids at risk. The California Legislature must pick up where the courts left off
  • AB 2073 (Chiu) protects homeowners from legal action by the lead paint manufacturers if the homeowners participate in the abatement program created by the judgement. Without this legislation, homeowners who do the right thing by removing toxic paint from their homes open themselves up to lawsuits by the paint companies, the worst possible outcome from the landmark legal judgement.
  • AB 2934 (Stone) would allow the California Department of Public Health to contract with counties to certify lead paint inspectors. This bill helps fill a shortage of inspectors to help bring homes up to safe standards. Additional qualified, lead paint inspectors will be needed as work proceeds to remove toxic paint from homes under the judgement.
  • AB 2074 (Bonta) removes a significant hurdle to homeowners holding poison paint manufacturers legally accountable for injuries by establishing that lead paint companies are responsible to prove they did not produce, sell, distribute or promote the lead-based paint used during a particular time or area and allowing homeowners to hold companies jointly liable if there were multiple companies selling or distributing paint at that time and area. Codifying this “risk contribution” theory in statute allows those poisoned by lead-based paint who are unable to identify the exact manufacturer of the lead paint pigment a new avenue to litigate cases they
    may not otherwise be able to litigate.​
  • AB 2995 (Carrillo) classifies the presence of lead-based paint in a home or building as a physical injury to the property, enabling property owners to sue for the cost of abating or removing lead paint to prevent the further deterioration of peoples’ health. Secondly, the bill delays the start of the clock on the statute of limitations to when property owners become aware that lead paint is present, rather than starting the clock at the time of purchase.
  • AB 3009 (Quirk) would enact a fee on paint manufacturers for all paint sold in California create a fund for residents of single-family or multi-family dwellings to clean up lead paint that has contaminated their homes.  This fee will only be imposed if an initiative passes that states that lead paint is not a public nuisance.
  • AB 2803 (Limon) would provide additional liability protection for homeowners by redefine the definition of “hazardous substance” to include lead-based paint for purposes of the Carpenter-Presley-Tanner-Hazardous Substance Account Act, otherwise known as California’s

“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body.” – Centers for Disease Control 3