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City sues companies over lead in paint



Published: Fri, October 13, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



A company says cities should go after landlords instead.

AKRON (AP) -- The city is suing Sherwin-Williams Co. and seven other companies, claiming lead in their paint has cost the city millions of dollars and threatens thousands of children.

Akron wants Sherwin-Williams and the other companies to remove lead paint from private and public buildings and pay unspecified damages to the city that has spent at least 4 million on lead abatement programs. The city also wants the companies to pay for public education and prevention campaigns.

The paint makers, already being sued by other Ohio cities, including Toledo and East Cleveland, say they should not be held responsible for practices that were legal at the time.

Lead paint was banned by the federal government in 1978, but it still can be found in many older buildings. Lead in the blood can cause neurological damage, as well as problems with attention span and intellectual development, especially in children.

Response

"We will aggressively defend the company against every one of these suits. They do not have a lot of merit," said Sherwin-Williams spokesman Bob Wells.

Last week, Sherwin-Williams filed its own lawsuit in federal court against East Cleveland, Toledo and any cities considering legal action to try to block the lawsuits. The company claims trial lawyers have been lobbying cities to sue so attorneys can profit after Rhode Island won a case earlier this year.

Instead of suing paint companies, cities should focus on landlords who don't maintain their properties, the company said in the lawsuit.

In the Rhode Island case, a jury found Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC liable for creating a public nuisance by manufacturing and selling a toxic product. The state has estimated that the cleanup of contaminated properties could cost 1.37 billion to 3.74 billion. Sherwin-Williams is appealing.

Risk to children

In Akron, any child younger than 6 living in a house built before 1978 could be at risk, said Wallace Chambers Jr., a spokesman for the city health department.

Ten percent of Akron's 92,000 households have children under 6. The city said 100 to 150 children annually are treated for lead poisoning.

"This suit is about forcing the defendants to clean up their mess before another generation of Akron children is irreparably harmed by the effects of lead paint," said Thomas W. Bevan, a Northfield lawyer among those representing the city.

Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams, with annual sales of 7.2 billion in 2005, has 30,000 employees, including 3,000 in Northeast Ohio.

Wells said Sherwin-Williams is disappointed that Akron would file such a lawsuit because such action hurts business.

"Ohio is the last place we thought cities would bite their own," he said.

Akron spokesman Mark Williamson declined to comment because the lawsuit, filed last week, is pending in Summit County Common Pleas Court.

The city also is suing Millennium Holdings of Cockeysville, Md.; NL Industries of Dallas; Conagra Grocery Product Co. of Omaha; Du Pont of Wilmington, Del.; Atlantic Richfield Co. of Los Angeles; Cytec Industries of West Paterson, N.J.; and American Cyanamid Co. of Wayne, N.J.




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