A historic jury victory for children's health advocates has been overturned by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, according to the New York Times.
The 4-0 decision reverses a 2006 ruling that had held Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries and Millennium Holdings liable for making and selling lead paint decades ago, then covering up the health risks. The Times estimates cleanup costs in the state could have soared to as much as $2.4 billion.
The case hinged on the idea of "public nuisance," and the Rhode Island judges have ruled that this standard does not apply to the paint companies. Instead, property owners are said to be liable for making their buildings safe and the public will have to foot the bill for remediation, education and health-care costs associated with the fallout from lead paint. Many children continue to be at risk from ingesting lead through tiny paint chips (which causes brain damage), especially kids in low-income situations.
The debate about what to do about lingering lead paint has raged in and out of the courts for years, and there are few good answers for how to sweep up the mess once and for all. There are too many antique homes and buildings to address all at once. By 2010, at least, all renovations done by contractors on older homes will have to include plans for lead abatement.
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