Former Lead Paint Producers Target of Ohio Lawsuit

April 5, 2007

Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has filed suit against paint manufacturers and chemical companies, including one in Illinois, that he alleges continued to make and sell lead paint knowing it presented health hazards.

Dann sued 10 companies including Sherwin-Williams, DuPont and Atlantic Richfield Co. of Warrensville, Ill., on April 2 to ensure the state maintains the right to seek damages; a right that is currently being contested in another lawsuit.

A political fight over lead-paint litigation is brewing between the state’s newly elected statewide officeholders, almost all of them Democrats, and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Dann, a Democrat, wants the companies declared in violation of the state’s public nuisance law.

“Because lead is hazardous or toxic, at all relevant times the defendants were under a duty to exercise the highest degree of care that skill and foresight can attain,” said the lawsuit, filed in Common Pleas Court.

The companies say the lawsuit is a distraction from efforts mediate problems related to lead paint.

In many cases companies stopped producing lead in paint decades ago and have addressed the issue responsibly, said Bonnie Campbell, former attorney general of Iowa and now a lawyer representing Atlantic Richfield, Cleveland-based Sherwin Williams, Millennium Holdings LLC of Houston and NL Industries Inc. of Dallas.

“If decreasing exposure of children to deteriorating lead paint is the goal, then a proper public policy response is certainly not litigation that promises to go on for years, maybe decades,” she said.

Rhode Island became the first state to sue paint manufacturers in 1999.

Last year, a jury there found three of the companies – Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries and Millennium Holdings – liable for creating a public nuisance. The companies have appealed the jury’s verdict to the state Supreme Court.

The federal government banned lead paint in 1978, but it still turns up in older buildings. Lead in the bloodstream can cause neurological damage and learning disabilities, especially in children.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, vetoed a Republican-backed bill this year that would place limits on consumer fraud lawsuits.

Republicans argue the veto was invalid because the bill was adopted before Strickland took office. The bill would place a $5,000 limit on certain court damages and create new protections for companies that once sold lead paint.

Strickland and his legal advisers say the veto should stand because the former governor, a Republican, never signed it. The bill would have automatically become law in Ohio after 10 days, but Strickland said that did not occur before the veto. Republicans say it did.

The other companies named in the lawsuit are Delaware-based DuPont; Augusta, Maine-based American Cyanamid Co.; Atlanta-based Armstrong Containers Inc.; Naperville, Ill.-based Conagra Grocery Products Co., West Paterson, N.J.-based Cytec Industries Inc.; and Houston-based Lyondell Chemical Co.

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