State Lawmakers and Advocates Announce Package of Legislation to Take on Toxic Lead Paint

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Bills will pick up where courts left off to hold Sherwin Williams, ConAgra, and NL Products accountable for poison paint in Californians’ homes

SACRAMENTO--A coalition of state legislators and advocates today announced a package of bills to address toxic lead paint in California homes.  The proposals by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) will safeguard children from the health consequences of toxic lead paint, remove hurdles from holding paint companies responsible, and protect homeowners from threats of frivolous lawsuits by giant paint corporations.

“Paint companies knowingly sold toxic lead paint to consumers for decades,” said Assemblymember Chiu.  “The courts found three companies were liable for creating a widespread public nuisance that they must pay to remedy.  The legislature is picking up where the courts left off and protecting the health of children and the finances of Californians.”

This package of bills comes after a California court found that three lead paint manufacturers--Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra, and NL Products--must pay to remedy a widespread public nuisance that they created by knowingly selling toxic lead paint to consumers. Ten California cities and counties sued the lead paint manufacturers and proved that the corporate giants were aware of lead paint dangers and disregarded them.  A state appellate court upheld this key legal ruling in People v. ConAgra Grocery Products (2017), which ordered the companies to pay to abate the damage caused.  

Lead paint poses serious human health risks including brain damage, kidney damage, and infertility.  Small children are particularly susceptible to lead paint poisoning, which can cause serious developmental and behavioral challenges.  Millions of homes in built in California before 1978 still contain toxic lead paint. With this bill package, State Legislators and advocates are coming together to ensure that the court judgement is carried out and that future generations of Californians are not continuously vulnerable to the dangers of toxic lead paint.

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The bills in the package include:

AB 2073 by Assemblymember David Chiu protects homeowners from frivolous lawsuits threatened by the lead paint manufacturers if the homeowners participate in the abatement program created by the court judgment. This legislation delivers needed assurance that homeowners who do the right thing by removing toxic paint from their homes will not be victimized by frivolous litigation from deep-pocketed paint companies.

AB 2074 by Assemblymember Rob 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.  It would also allow 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 by Assemblymember Wendy 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 health consequences for future generations. The bill also 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 2803 by Assemblymember Monique Limón provides additional liability protection for homeowners by redefining a “hazardous substance” to include lead-based paint for purposes of the Carpenter-Presley-Tanner Hazardous Substance Account Act, otherwise known as California’s Superfund law. This would allow homeowners to seek damages for clean-up or otherwise implement their own clean-up without fear of liability lawsuits.

AB 2934 by Assemblymember Mark Stone allows the California Department of Public Health to contract with counties to certify lead paint inspectors to fill a shortage of inspectors to help bring homes up to safe standards. Qualified lead paint inspectors will be needed as work proceeds to remove toxic paint from homes under the court judgement.

AB 3009 by Assemblymember Bill Quirk enacts a fee on paint manufacturers for all paint sold in California to 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 a statewide initiative passes that states that lead paint is not a public nuisance.