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Three companies told to pay $1.1 bln for lead paint abatement

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 16 (Reuters) - A California judge on Monday ordered Sherman-Williams Co, ConAgra Grocery Products Co and NL Industries Inc to pay the state $1.1 billion to set up a fund for controlling hazards from lead paint in homes across the most populous U.S. state.

The fund will support clean-up work in homes in 10 cities and counties, according to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg's decision in the 13-year-old nuisance lawsuit pressed by the state of California against the companies.

Lead paint was banned for use in homes in 1978 by the U.S. government but remains a top cause of lead poisoning, especially for children, Kleinberg wrote in his decision against the companies, which had promoted lead pigments and lead-based paint for use in homes.

Kleinberg dismissed claims in the lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield Co and E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co.

Sherman-Williams, ConAgra Grocery Products and NL Industries are planning a potential appeal if Kleinberg rejects an objection they will file within 15 days, according to spokeswoman Bonnie Campbell.

Kleinberg's decision was "at odds with California law and judicial decisions across the country that have uniformly rejected similar public nuisance claims," Campbell said in a statement.

"The decision violates the federal and state constitutions by penalizing manufacturers for the truthful advertising of lawful products, done at a time when government officials routinely specified those products for use in residential buildings," Campbell said.

"No public health official recommended any restriction on that use, because the risks to children alleged today were unknown and unknowable decades ago," Campbell said.

Similar suits have been filed in at least seven other states, including New York, Ohio, Maryland and Wisconsin. Those claims were all dismissed, either voluntarily or by the courts.

The case is People v. Atlantic Richfield Co, Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Clara County, No.: 1-00-CV-788657.