On January 30, 2017, over 1,700 residents and property owners in the Flint, Michigan area filed a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) concerning the agency’s handling of the high levels of lead found in the area’s water sources. The lawsuit asks for over $720 million in damages, which includes damages for both health and property issues.

At the core of plaintiffs’ claims are allegations that the EPA failed to provide guidance and expertise to government agencies in the area that were not in compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act. Further, plaintiffs’ claim, the EPA failed to take steps to determine if local and state officials were appropriately taking remedial action regarding the high levels of lead found in the water sources in the area. Plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleges that although the EPA received notice in October of 2014 that there were serious concerns over the levels of potential lead contamination in the local water supply, the EPA did not file an emergency action compelling the Governor of Michigan to act until January 2016. The EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality exchanged emails regarding the lead levels in the Flint water sources throughout 2015 and 2016. Both sides have publicly blamed each other for poor communication, providing misleading information, and withholding information regarding the lead levels in the water.

Although the Flint, Michigan drinking water lead levels are currently receiving the most media attention in the lead hazard realm, in the past, the most notable target involved the lead paint industry. Prior to 1978, lead was used as one ingredient in the manufacturing process of paint in the United States. Homes built prior to 1978 likely utilized paint products that contained lead. Over time, the paint products peel, chip, or flake, creating a risk of lead paint ingestion for children. Given that rooms in homes are typically repainted when normal renovations or maintenance is performed, lead paint used in millions of homes built prior to 1978 remained there for decades. As these homes age and the paint naturally wears away, the potential for children to ingest paint chips containing lead increases.

Whenever a child’s blood lead levels show elevated lead in the blood, the easiest target for plaintiffs’ attorneys are homeowners, property managers, and landlords. This is due in large part to strict laws in many states that hold homeowners and landlords liable for elevated blood lead levels in children (whether the child shows any signs of developmental delay or not) if the child resided in the home and there was lead present in the paint in the home. As the ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan shows, though, looking only to lead paint as the possible cause of elevated blood lead levels is unfair to homeowners and landlords given the number of other potential sources for exposure to lead that a child might have.

It is important for landlords, home owners, and property managers to take appropriate steps to test for or monitor the conditions of lead paint in their homes, and steps must be taken to notify tenants of potential lead paint hazards in order to comply with state and federal law. If you are a homeowner, landlord, or property owner, there are ways to mitigate the risk of being sued for lead paint claims and CMBG3 Law LLC can provide counsel to you on these subjects. In addition, if you have been sued because one of your tenants’ children has elevated blood lead levels, we can help.

John Gardella has represented clients in lead poisoning claims, including defending homeowners, landlords, and property managers in Housing Court and Superior Court. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John Gardella (email him or 617-936-4353, ext. 204).