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MO Supreme Court to hears arguments in lead paint case

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By Tom Weber, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – The Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments today (Thursday) over whether paint manufacturers can be held accountable for costs to remove lead paint from St. Louis homes, even if the city can't prove who made the paint.

Lead paint has been banned for residential use since 1978, but thousands of older homes are still contaminated and it will cost millions to abate them all.

A judge initially ruled against the city's claim. Then, in December, judges for the eastern district of the Missouri Court of Appeals wrote that proof that the companies marketed and sold lead paint in St. Louis was not enough to prove that the paint was actually used in the homes.

"But we transfer the case to the Supreme Court because of the general importance of and interest in this issue and so that the Supreme Court can re-examine existing law relating to this issue," the appeals court added.

The city alleges that the companies knew lead paint was dangerous and unfit for homes. The suit seeks cleanup costs from several lead paint and lead pigment manufacturers Benjamin Moore & Co., Millennium Chemicals Inc., NL Industries Inc., XBD Inc., PPG Industries Inc. and The Sherwin-Williams Co.

But the city said in the suit it could not identify the manufacturer of any lead paint or lead pigment at properties where abatement has occurred. Instead, the city argued that it only needed to show that the companies substantially contributed to the lead paint problem in St. Louis.

The companies said product identification was necessary to hold them liable.

The lawsuit is among several around the country claiming makers of lead paint created public nuisances that local, county and state governments are left to deal with.

In February 2006, Rhode Island won a suit against Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries, and Millennium Holdings LLC. With roughly 240,000 homes in Rhode Island contaminated with the toxic paint, the state has said the cleanup could cost up to $3.74 billion. The companies asked a judge to throw out the ruling or hold a new trial.

A month later, a California appeals court reinstated a class-action lawsuit filed by a coalition of cities, counties and school districts alleging that several paint manufacturers knowingly sold harmful lead-based paint products for decades.

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