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New York City Seeks To Recover Damages From Makers of Lead Paint

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New York City has sued five manufacturers of lead-containing paint pigment and their trade organization in an attempt to recover more than $50 million in costs associated with reducing the risks posed by lead to children living in housing units owned or managed by the city.

Lawyers for the city called the lawsuit the first to be filed by a municipality against the makers of lead-containing paint pigment. A similar suit was filed by the housing agency in New Orleans, after it was named as a defendent in suits filed by the residents of public housing, they said.

"If we have the right to demand that Exxon pay the price for clean4ing up the environmental disaster at Prince William Sound, we also have the right to demand that the lead-pigment industry clean up the environmental catastrophe they have caused in buildings throughout our city and other urban areas," Mayor Edward I. Koch said at a press conference this month to announce the lawsuit.

The federal government in the 1970's banned the use of lead paint. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and damage to the brain and nervous system, and can be fatal.

Although the city has prohibited the use of lead paint in homes since 1960, children have continued to become poisoned after ingesting, in8haling, or absorbing old paint chips through the skin.

City officials say there were 890 reports of lead poisoning in children in fiscal 1988, the lowest level in the city since 1970. But they said there were 6,500 such incidents between 1983 and 1988.

The suit, filed in a state court in Manhattan, alleges that the pigment makers were negligent because they "knew or should have known that the use of lead pigment in paint posed an unreasonable and grave risk to the health and welfare of all persons, and particularly young persons."

The city is seeking $50 million to pay for building inspections, health tests, and abatement activity. The suit also seeks unspecified punitive damages and an order allowing the city to recover from the defendants all future lead-related expenses.

City officials said they had spent more than $24 million on lead-related activities over the past six years. They also said that at least 78 lawsuits had been filed against the city and its housing agency for alleged injury due to lead poisoning.

The defendants named in the suit are the Lead Industries Association and five companies: nl Industries, Eagle-Picher Industries Inc., Atlantic Richfield Company, Sherwin-Williams Company, and Glidden Company and its successor, scm Corporation.--ef

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