Selected tag(s): California

Historic court decision on lead-based paint in California court of appeals

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Yesterday, after three years of deliberations, California’s Appellate Court for the Sixth District held that three defendant companies – Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, and ConAgra Grocery Products[1]— created a public nuisance in ten plaintiff jurisdictions in the state by promoting the use of lead-based paint in the interior of residences built before 1951 even though they had actual knowledge of the harm the paint would pose to children. The case now goes back to the trial court to determine the amount that defendants must pay into a fund to remediate pre-1951 homes with lead-based paint in those jurisdictions and to appoint a suitable receiver to manage the fund.

The Court of Appeals’ decision requires remediation of the lead-based paint, but not its complete removal, in the ten California jurisdictions that were plaintiffs in the case. The jurisdictions are: seven counties, Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura; two cities, Oakland and San Diego; and the city and county of San Francisco.

The case, which began in 2000, rests on public nuisance law in California. While all states prohibit public nuisances to protect the public from threats to their health and safety, the requirements vary significantly among the states and rely heavily on precedent set in prior state court decisions. In California, a public nuisance action requires proof that a defendant knowingly created or assisted in the creation of a substantial and unreasonable interference with a public right. The defendants must have actual knowledge of the public health hazard.

In 2010, the California Supreme Court overruled a previous decision by the trial court and provided key interpretations of public nuisance law that shaped yesterday’s court decision. While the paint companies are expected to appeal this decision to the California Supreme Court, the decision is likely to stand because the Appellate Court hewed closely that court’s 2010 decision.

The Appellate Court for the Sixth District was reviewing a 2014 trial court’s decision that the Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, and ConAgra Grocery Products must pay $1.15 billion to remediate homes built before 1978 with lead-based paint in the plaintiff’s jurisdiction. The three judge panel of the Court of Appeals narrowed the scope of the trial court’s decision from homes built before 1978 to those built before 1951. The panel found that there was insufficient evidence that the three companies had promoted lead-based paint for interior residential use after 1950, even though they may have sold the paint after that date.

Similar cases had been brought in other states including Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. In 2008, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned a trial court decision finding paint companies liable for the state’s public nuisance law. The California court found its case was different because it involved an extensive assessment of voluminous evidence presented at trial. The other cases were decided on pleading and did not get to the merits of the evidence.

While lead-based paint is not the only source of lead exposure to children, it is the most significant for those children living in homes with lead-based paint, especially when the paint is deteriorated. Thousands of children still live in homes with lead-based paint hazards – with poor and minority children at greatest risk. This court decision is a first step that will hold companies responsible and result in the removal of toxic lead paint in homes across California and may serve as a roadmap for other states.

[1] ConAgra was a defendant because it had owned Fuller Paint Company’s liabilities through a series of mergers.

Posted in Health Policy, lead, Public Health| Also tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

California requires replacement of all lead service lines – but vigilance needed on implementation

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In 2016, California became the first state in the country to make enforceable commitments to eliminating all lead service lines (LSLs) in the state.  These lead pipes that connect the main under the street to homes are the primary source of lead in drinking water and unpredictably release lead particulate when disturbed.  Under the leadership of Senator Connie Leyva, the state’s Senate voted unanimously, and the Assembly voted 72 to 7 to pass SB1398 to require drinking water utilities to inventory LSLs in use and then provide the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) a timeline for replacement of the lines.

Based on a national survey of utilities, the American Water Works Association reported that California has 65,000 LSLs out of 6.1 million nationally.  Large utilities have the most with 46,000 LSLs, medium systems have 4,700 and small systems have 15,000.  However, most utilities do not have an accurate inventory of LSLs, so the true number may be much greater.

California’s SB1398 recognized that an accurate inventory was critical and laid out a thoughtful two-step plan to accomplish the objective of full LSL replacement.  By July 1, 2018, it requires public water systems (PWS) to submit an inventory of known LSLs and a timeline for their replacement.  Two years later, PWSs must submit an updated inventory of LSLs and provide a timeline to replace any service line where it may be made of lead.  The law does not set a deadline for replacement that PWSs must meet.

This two-step approach makes replacing known LSLs the highest priority and, by essentially presuming that a service line is lead unless known otherwise, also creates an incentive for PWSs to develop accurate inventories in the next three years.

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Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, lead, Regulation, States| Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

No more just California Dreamin’: First three priority products proposed

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

Today the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) announced its first three draft priority products—the next major milestone in the implementation of its Safer Consumer Product (SCP) regulations to address chemicals of concern in the marketplace.  While we’re still at the start of a long process, today’s announcement is the clearest indicator to date of the impact these regulations may have on consumer products.

The release of the draft priority products follows DTSC’s release last September of its candidate chemicals list and from within this list, the subset initial candidate chemicals list.  Together with the initial candidate chemical list, the identification of the draft priority products now defines the possible set of chemical-product combinations that may head toward alternatives assessment.  Read on for a description of the chemicals and products and of the next phase of regulatory actions.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, States| Also tagged , , , , | Comments are closed
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