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Professor Gerald Markowitz Helps Secure Landmark Ruling Against Lead Paint Industry

The efforts of Distinguished Professor Gerald Markowitz have helped lead to a landmark $1.1-billion judgment in which three major companies were ordered to pay to have lead paint removed from millions of older homes in a number of California cities.

Professor Markowitz, along with his research and writing partner David Rosner, participated in a lawsuit against the lead industry in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose and other cities in California. On December 17, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg ruled against three companies – ConAgra Foods, Sherman Williams and NL Industries – ordering them to pay for lead-paint remediation in 4.7 million houses, many of them in low-income areas.

The two scholars had each testified in the case for three days this past summer, with much of the historical evidence used by the prosecution having been derived from the research Professors Markowitz and Rosner conducted for their books Lead Wars and Deceit and Denial.

As reported by CBS News, the three companies “should be held responsible for creating a ‘public nuisance’ by selling lead paint prior to it being banned in 1978.” Seven other states have attempted to sue the paint industry for public harm and have failed. The California case was filed in 2000.

“The judge’s decision in this case is a tremendous victory for public health and for the health and welfare of the children in California,” said Professor Markowitz. “Childhood lead poisoning is the longest running and worst epidemic affecting children since the early 1900s. “This decision offers the hope that for the first time the companies that sold the poison – lead pigment – that was used in homes where children lived will be forced to pay at least some of the cost of removing it and insuring that future generations of children will not be harmed.”

The watershed ruling has been covered by news media outlets nationwide, including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, CBS News and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Click here to view the CBS coverage.

Click here to read the Philadelphia Inquirer report.

Gerald Markowitz is Distinguished Professor of History at John Jay College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, City University of New York. A member of the John Jay faculty since 1970, he has been the recipient of numerous grants from private foundations and federal agencies, including the Milbank Memorial Fund, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. In 2000, he and David Rosner were awarded the Viseltear Prize for Outstanding Work in the History of Public Health from the American Public Health Association. Together with Rosner he has authored and edited numerous books and articles on occupational safety and health, including: Are We Ready? The Public Health Response to 9/11, (University of California Press, 2006).