October 1, 2008
Rhode Island’s Supreme Court Overturns Lead Paint Decision
REVERSING an earlier decision that paint companies must pay for the clean-up of tens of thousands of homes contaminated with lead- based paint, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled in July that the companies are not responsible for leadbased paint abatement. The ruling marked a blow to a public health victory that came last year, when Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ordered paint and pigment makers Sherman- Williams Company, NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC to clean up the "public nuisance" they had created by formerly marketing and selling lead-based paint in the state. The state was to work with a court-appointed public health official to steer a statewide remediation effort, but state Supreme Court justices recently ruled the state's argument did not support the public nuisance claim."In reaching this conclusion, we do not mean to minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of children in Rhode Island have suffered as a result of lead poisoning," the decision said. "But, however grave the problem of lead poisoning is in Rhode Island, public nuisance law simply does not provide a remedy for this harm."
Calling the reversal "enormously disappointing," Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch said the state dedicated more attorneys, staff and resources to the case than to any other case in the state's history.
"I want every resident of Rhode Island to know that this office fought this battle well, and to what appears to be the end," Lynch said.
The court's decision on State of Rhode Island v. Lead Industries Association Inc. et al is posted at www. courts.ri.gov/supreme/pdf- files/04-63_7-2-08.pdf.
Copyright American Public Health Association Sep 2008
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