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Apr-10-2001 City of Milwaukee Files Complaint against Lead Paint Companies; Action Seeks Payment for Cleanup of City's Contaminated Properties

Apr-10-2001 City of Milwaukee Files Complaint against Lead Paint Companies; Action Seeks Payment for Cleanup of City's Contaminated Properties

The City of Milwaukee today filed a complaint against the nation's largest producer of lead pigments to force it to bear the primary responsibility for the poisoning of children from lead paint.

The necessary clean up in Milwaukee will cost the City up to $100 million.

Attorney Richard S. Lewis, a veteran litigator of childhood lead paint poisoning cases, filed the case in behalf of the city. The complaint was filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court against Texas-based NL Industries, Inc., formerly known as the National Lead Company, and against Mautz Paint. NL Industries produced millions of tons of lead pigment. Mautz Paint is a Wisconsin paint company that also produced the lead paint. "Milwaukee has put together one of the best abatement programs in the country, but the city is still devastated by the staggering costs of abatement," Lewis said. "The only way to prevent the epidemic of poisoning in the inner city is to hold companies like NL responsible for their wrongdoing which caused the problem."

Decades before 1978, when lead paint was banned by federal law, the lead paint and pigment industry knew that their product was killing and seriously injuring hundreds of children each year. Already at the turn of the 20th century, leading medical journals in Britain and in the United States reported that children were dying from lead poisoning caused by peeling or chalking lead paint. In 1909, France banned the use of lead paint. Many countries followed suit in the years immediately following World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s, medical journals cited hundreds of cases of such poisonings, and reported the deaths of dozens of children. Yet in 1930, National Lead was issuing lead paint coloring books to children. Through the Lead Industries Association, which it was instrumental in founding, it denied or downplayed reports of children being poisoned by paint. National Lead sponsored major promotional campaigns for lead pigment in the late 1930s and 1040s. National Lead and Mautz Paint played important roles in the National Paint and Coatings Association, which fought against warning labels for lead paint, defeating or weakening regulations and legislation in California, Maryland, and New York. Still today, Mautz Paint cans bear no warnings that would protect purchasers against the dangers of sanding painted surfaces when they prepare for repainting.

This action by the City of Milwaukee follows the favorable ruling last week by a Rhode Island court, which permitted the State of Rhode Island to proceed with its lawsuit against former manufacturers of lead paints and pigments. Similar lawsuits have been filed by a number of local governments, including the City of New York, the City of St. Louis, and the County of Santa Clara, California.

The City of Milwaukee is represented by the law firms of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, of Washington, D.C.; Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, of San Francisco, New York, and Boston, Warshafsky, Rotter, Tarnoff, Reinhardt & Bloch, S.C., of Milwaukee; and Ronald P. Britton, S.C., of Milwaukee.

Lewis is a partner with Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll P.L.L.C., a national class action law firm with offices in Washington, D.C., and Seattle, Washington.

Cohen, Milstein regularly litigates plaintiffs' class action cases, including those involving antitrust, health care, consumer protection, product liability, civil rights, securities and other business class actions, as well as environmental toxic tort actions.

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