NL Industries, Inc (formerly known as the National Lead Company) is a lead smelting company that previously produced lead paint headquartered in Houston, Texas. Founded in 1772, NL is one of the oldest publicly traded companies in the United States.  It’s parent company is Valhi, Inc., and it has two subsidiaries: CompX International, Inc. and Kronos Worldwide. “By 1893, the newly formed National Lead Company was the most powerful of the lead companies, and lead pigment was its signature product. It manufactured 65,000 tons of white lead annually, compared to a total production of 25,000 tons by the other nine American producers combined.” 
NL is a known polluter of the environment in the United States due to its lead paint business and its production of uranium for the federal government during the 1940s and 1950s. As a result, since the 1980s the company has faced an increasing number of lawsuits as more information on the dangers with lead and nuclear exposure comes to light.
CEO of NL Industries Harold Simmons was a major contributor to Republican candidates including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In September 2016, The Guardian newspaper reported that Simmons gave $750,000 to aid Walker’s 2011-2012 recall efforts secretly through Wisconsin Club for Growth and shortly afterward there was a major change to Wisconsin law benefiting Simmons. More below.
- 1 Pay to Play in Wisconsin
- 2 Lead Exposure and Lawsuits
- 2.1 NL, ConAgra, and Sherman-Williams Ordered to Pay $1.1 Billion for Lead Poisoning in CA
- 2.2 Appeals Court Rules that NL is not Responsible for Lead Cleanup in Milwaukee
- 2.3 Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules Landlords, Not Paintmakers Liable for Lead Paint
- 2.4 NL to Pay U.S. Over $30 Million in Settlement for Clean Up of Granite City Site
- 3 Depleted Uranium Exposure at NL’s Colonie New York Plant and in the Surrounding Community
- 4 Former CEO Harold Simmons
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Contact Information
- 7 References
Pay to Play in Wisconsin
In September 2016, the Guardian reported that Scott Walker may have secretly solicited $750,000 from Texas billionaire and NL Industries CEO Harold Simmons. Simmons was the owner of numerous businesses including CONTRAN, Valhi and NL Industries. The contributions, deposited into the coffers of the dark money group Wisconsin Club for Growth, were followed by an unconstitutional) change to the law that attempted to retroactively nullify lawsuits brought by 173 poisoned children against NL Industries and other lead pigment manufacturers. The four word change was slipped into a 600 page budget bill with a “Motion 999” in the dead of night with no public notice. The fingerprints couldn’t be clearer; the language was handed to legislators by NL’s high-dollar lobbyist Eric Peterson in a memo. In October 2016, Wisconsin legislators asked for the Madison District Attorney to investigate the potential pay to play scheme.
Lead Exposure and Lawsuits
The National Lead Company had a slogan to promote its line of lead paints, “Lead helps to guard your health.” Subsequent studies have shown that this is not true and that lead exposure, especially in children, can cause neurological damage, learning disabilities, or in some cases, even lead to death.
The Chicago Tribune reported recently that, “Once an obscure academic specialty, lead poisoning is gaining new appreciation from economists, criminologists and education experts as researchers document how early exposure harms children in ways that don't become apparent until years later. The damage ends up costing taxpayers in the form of increased spending on health care, special education and law enforcement.”
Similar to tobacco companies who deliberately deceived the public on the dangers of smoking in order to maintain profits, NL and other lead companies hid the dangers of lead paint for many years. NL even had its own version of Joe Camel to market to young people: Dutch Boy.
As David Rosner, a professor at Columbia University, stated, ““They did everything that becomes known as the signature of the tobacco industry. In fact, they were really pioneered by the lead industries. ... The [Lead Industries Assn.] can take credit for creating this giant doubt industry.”
As a result, since the 1980s, NL has been a defendant in a number of lawsuits.
NL, ConAgra, and Sherman-Williams Ordered to Pay $1.1 Billion for Lead Poisoning in CA
On December 16, 2013, Judge James Kleinberg of Santa Clara County Superior Court ordered NL Industries, ConAgra, and Sherman-Williams to pay $1.1 billion into a state-administered account which will be used to remove lead paint from the interiors of homes in the state. “Local governments had argued that the paint and pigment companies -- including both makers and distributors -- sold and promoted lead-based paints despite knowing that it exposed children to lead poisoning. However, the companies argued that they sold the product at a time when the ill effects of the product were not known, and such paints were not banned in the U.S.,” the International Business Times reported.
Appeals Court Rules that NL is not Responsible for Lead Cleanup in Milwaukee
On November 25, 2008, the District 1 Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to uphold a jury’s ruling that NL Industries does not have to pay for the clean up of lead paint in Milwaukee homes. The city had sought $52.6 million to fund the massive clean up.
According to the Lacrosse Tribune, “The city says that testing in 1998 showed one in five Milwaukee children had lead levels in their blood at or above the federal threshold for poisoning.”
Rhode Island Supreme Court Rules Landlords, Not Paintmakers Liable for Lead Paint
In 2006, Sherwin-Williams, Millennium Holdings and NL Industries are found responsible by a jury to clean up lead paint in an estimated 240,000 Rhode Islands homes. The estimated cost of doing so at the time was close to $1 billion.
The companies appealed to the State Supreme Court and the verdict was reversed. The ruling said that landlords are responsible for keeping homes safe, not companies.
According to a report in the Providence Journal, “In 1999, when Rhode Island first sued, more than 2,300 children under 6 years old — nearly 7 percent of all those tested in the state — were found to have dangerously elevated levels of lead, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
NL to Pay U.S. Over $30 Million in Settlement for Clean Up of Granite City Site
On December 19, 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice and EPA announced that thy had reached a settlement with NL to pay more than $30 million in fines and to a superfund that was drained in order to clean up the contamination of a secondary lead smelter the company formerly owned and operated in Granite City, Illinois.
Depleted Uranium Exposure at NL’s Colonie New York Plant and in the Surrounding Community
NL opened a uranium plant in Colonie, New York in 1958 to supply the Pentagon with Uranium. According to The Guardian, “In 1979 a whistleblower from inside the plant told the local health department that it was releasing large amounts of DU (Depleted Uranium) from its 50ft chimney, which was not properly filtered.” In 1981, following air quality tests around the facility, production ceased, resulting in the plant’s complete closure in 1984. The US Government bought the facility from NL for $10 that same year in what was seen as a way for NL to avoid having to pay to clean up the site. The Guardian reports that, “The clean-up did not finish until summer 2007, having cost some $190m. Contractors demolished the buildings and removed more than 150,000 tons of soil and other contaminated detritus, digging down to depths of up to 40ft and trucking it 2,000 miles by rail to underground radioactive waste sites in the Rockies.”
But this was not the greatest cost, a team of researchers led by Prof. Randall Parrish of Leicester University found during a three year study of previous workers at the site and of people in the community that,
- ” Twenty-three years after production ceased they tested the urine of five former workers. All are still contaminated with DU. So were 20 per cent of people tested who had spent at least 10 years living near the factory when it was still working.”
Former CEO Harold Simmons
Harold Simmons was the CEO and owner of NL Industries from 1986 until his death on December 29, 2013. At the time of his death, Simmons was worth $10 billion, according to Forbes. While he was CEO, NL Industries was sued many times for lead contamination.Under his Contran holding company, in addition to NL Industries, he managed: Titanium Metals (which he sold for $1 billion a year before his death), Kronos Worldwide and Keystone Consolidated Industries.In 1995, ironically, Simmons bought Waste Control Specialists, a company that profited off the clean up of contaminated sites like the ones his company was responsible for.
Simmons was a libertarian that did not believe in limits on political contributions. As such, he was a consistent backer of Republican candidates, spending as much as $30 million in the 2012 election cycle.
As of December 2015:
- Steven L. Watson, Chairman
- Robert D. Graham, Vice Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer
- Gregory M. Swalwell, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
- Bobby D. O’Brien, Executive Vice President
- Kelly D. Luttmer, Executive Vice President and Global Tax Director
- Clarence B. Brown, Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary
- Steve S. Eaton, Vice President and Director of Internal Control Over Financial Reporting
- Tim C. Hafer, Vice President and Controller
- A. Andrew R. Louis, Vice President, Secretary and Associate General Counsel
- Andrew B. Nace, Vice President
- Courtney J. Riley, Vice President, Environmental Affairs
- John A. St. Wrba, Vice President and Treasurer
Board of Directors
- Keith R. Coogan, Private Investor
- Loretta J. Feehan, Financial Consultant
- Robert D. Graham, Vice Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer
- C.H. Moore, Jr., Retired Partner at KPMG LLP
- Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, United States Air Force (retired)
- Steven L. Watson, Chairman
NL Industries, Inc.
5430 LBJ Freeway, Suite 1700
Dallas, Texas 75240-2697
Phone: (972) 233-1700
- Harvard Baker Library, NL Industries, Harvard Baker Library, 2016.
- NL Industries, NL Industries Homepage, NL Industries, 2016.
- Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, [Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution], University of California Press, 2002.
- Sreeja Vn, California Court Orders Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra, NL Industries To Pay $1.1 Billion In A 13-Year-Old Lead-Paint Poison Case, International Business Times, December 17, 2013.
- US Department of Justice, Illinois Company to Pay U.S. More than $30 Million to Reimburse for Superfund Clean Up Costs, US Department of Justice, December 19, 2002.
- , David Rose, 'Safe' uranium that left a town contaminated, The Guardian, November 18, 2007.
- Ed Pilkington and the Guardian US interactive team, Because Scott Walker Asked, The Guardian, September 14, 2016.
- Mary Bottari, Secret Donors, Secret Agendas: Guardian Pulls Back the Curtain on Walker Corruption Probe, PR Watch, September 14, 2016.
- Nicholas Kristof, This is Your Brain on Toxins, New York Times, October 16, 2013.
- Michael Hawthorne, Studies link childhood lead exposure, violent crime, The Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2015.
- Matt Pearce, A brief history of how the American public was sold on toxic lead, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2016.
- Lacrosse Tribune, Milwaukee loses appeal in lead paint lawsuit, Lacrosse Tribune, November 25, 2008.
- Matt O'Brien, Long before Flint, Mich., Rhode Island had lead crisis, Providence Journal, February 23, 2016.
- Christopher Hellman, Texas Billionaire Harold Simmons Dies; Called Obama 'Most Dangerous Man In America', Forbes, December 30, 2013.
- NL Industries, 2015 Annual Report, NL Industries, Inc, 2015.