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California home builders stopped using lead paint a half century ago, but a state appeals court said they still have to clean up the mess.
Lead poisoning is a health problem for residents of old houses and apartments, and litigation over the issue has been plodding through the courts for nearly two decades. Four years ago, a trial judge ordered the paint manufacturers to pay $1.15 billion to abate the problem.
In People v. Conagra Grocery Products Company, the Sixth District Court of Appeals said the trial court must recalculate the cost of abatement. But the case is far from over.
The case started 17 years ago, when the state sued three paint companies for marketing the paint after they knew of its harmful effects. The plaintiff won, and the court ordered the defendants to pay into a fund for homes built before 1978.
In the latest ruling in the case, the Sixth District narrowed the program to homes built before 1951 and remanded the case to the trial court for a recalculation. Joseph Cotchett estimated the companies would owe about $600 million.
"This case is all about children," he told the Los Angeles Times.
Cotchett said thousands of children in low-income families in Los Angeles alone have tested with elevated levels of lead in their blood.
The abatement program requires the inspection of more than 3.5 million homes and apartments. Workers will then strip and repaint any lead-tainted structures.
According to reports, the case is one of the longest-running in California. It outlasted the trial judge, James Kleinberg, who retired shortly after his ruling in 2013.
Kleinberg said the manufacturers actively promoted lead paint even though the dangers were known "since antiquity." He said they created a "public nuisance."
After the Sixth District ruling, both sides said they will appeal.