Ending nearly two decades of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court closed the door on paint companies and builders who used lead paint in California homes.
The justices rejected appeals from companies that were ordered to clean up lead paint after a trial judge found the companies knew about the hazards of lead poisoning. A California appeals court affirmed that decision in People v. Conagra Grocery Products Company.
The California Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court turned down appeals, marking the end for Sherwin-Williams, Conagra, and NL Industries. The companies stopped making lead paint half a century ago, but millions of homes already had their paint on the walls.
California sued the defendants for creating a public nuisance by promoting lead paint on residences in 10 counties. A trial judge agreed and ordered them to contribute $1.1 billion to abate the problem.
The state's Sixth Appellate District modified the decision, leaving the defendants on the hook only for homes built before 1951. The bill for identifying and cleaning up the paint is estimated to be between $400 and $600 million.
"Lead poisoning is the top pediatric environmental health problem in Los Angeles County," the appeals court said.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit were the cities of Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco. The counties of Alameda, San Mateo, San Francisco, Solano, and Ventura also joined the case.
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 was one of the longest-running in California. It outlasted the trial judge, James Kleinberg, who retired shortly after his ruling in 2013.