April 5, 2006

Lead Paint Cleanup Could be in the Billions

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today's Projo, Peter B. Lord reports on the damage determination phase of the Rhode Island lead paint trial...

State lawyers are asking a Superior Court judge to appoint a public health expert to plan and oversee a lead-paint cleanup program in Rhode Island that they say could cost between $1.37 billion and $3.74 billion.

The proposal is part of the final step in the state's public nuisance lawsuit against Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries and Millennium Holdings...

The state lawyers say their witnesses uniformly argued that the safest and most prudent policy is to remove all lead from homes.

"The single question that remains is not legal, but practical -- how should these defendants undertake abatement of the public nuisance in Rhode Island," the lawyers argued.

However, when contrasted against DuPont's $12.5 million dollar "settlement" in the same case, the billion-dollar damage figures raise a question or two.

The DuPont "settlement", according to an earlier Peter B. Lord Projo article, took the form of charitable contributions, including "$6.6 million to abate lead problems in 600 houses...funneled through the Children's Forum". According to Julie Creswell's New York Times article, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch was willing to offer similar deals to the other defendants in the lawsuit...

Mr. Lynch said the other paint companies could have reached a similar conclusion, an assertion disputed by Philip H. Curtis, a partner at Arnold & Porter representing Atlantic Richfield.
The questions are...
1. If damages in this case are being determined by the public interest, why was DuPont allowed to settle for a fraction of the amount that the other companies may pay and address only a fraction of the homes (fewer than 1%) that the other companies must address?
2. If all of the companies had taken a DuPont-type deal, where would the billions that the state is now claiming is necessary for cleaning up lead paint have come from?