San Mateo County’s piece of $1.1 billion awarded in a lawsuit over lead paint will probably be enough money to remove it from all local homes that still have it, said County Counsel John Beiers.
The county’s piece of the ruling announced Monday is not yet in hand — the three companies ordered to pay the money have vowed to appeal the preliminary ruling and the original lawsuit alone took 13 years to resolve since the initial filing. But once those avenues are exhausted and if the plaintiffs prevail, Beiers said the county will launch “a very deliberate process” with the Board of Supervisors, the Health System and the Department of Housing over how to best utilize the money such as whether the county will proactively seek out affected homes or have occupants contact the county.
The intent of the award from Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra and NL Industries was to help rid lead paint from an estimated 5 million homes in the 10 cities and counties, including San Mateo County, which sued.
The suit accused the paint companies of knowingly promoting and selling lead paint despite knowing it is harmful.
The federal government banned lead paint in 1987 but the lawsuits against the industry argued that unsafe levels of lead found in thousands of children annually is still caused by the substance. Any home built prior to 1979 is presumed to have lead-based paint and the lead has been linked to developmental difficulties and medical problems in children.
The defendants countered that they never deliberately sold a harmful product and that pinpointing specific layers of paint as responsible is difficult because of home ages and the presence of lead in other products and substances.
Regardless of future challenges to the ruling, local officials heralded Monday’s ruling as a win.
“This is a great victory for children and families who face poisoning by lead paint in their homes,” Don Horsley, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said in a prepared statement. “The state Legislature banned the use of lead paint many years ago but countless children face a legacy of toxic lead in their homes. This money will truly improve the health of our entire community.”
The county currently has a child lead poisoning prevention program but, in January, the Health System plans to come forward with a pilot program for lead abatement, Beiers said.
Although the $55 million is not yet committed, the money will likely go into that program, he said.
Joining San Mateo County in the suit were the counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Monterey, Solano and Ventura and the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.
Burlingame-based law firm Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy represented the plaintiffs.
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