Environmental Law Foundation

ELF Protects Consumers


(smokeless tobacco)

While Attorneys General around the country were fighting tobacco companies over cigarettes, ELF and the City of San Francisco discovered another insidious tobacco practice: targeting youth to hook them on “smokeless tobacco.” Internal company documents demonstrated that the market for “chew” and “snuff” was dying, until the companies deliberately began targeting youth, especially young men, as the new growth market. The companies used marketing techniques such as “lighter” brands designed to move users up a “ladder” of products as they got increasingly addicted.  They introduced wintergreen and cherry flavored brands to move children from candy to more dangerous habits, paid retailers to place the new products at or even in the candy racks, deliberately targeted audiences such as rodeos and youth baseball teams, and hired campus representatives to freely distribute samples at college parties and fraternities. It worked, and led to an epidemic of mouth and other cancers among younger males.  Major League Baseball itself was so disgusted it started a massive anti-tobacco program among its players. ELF and San Francisco forced changes and extracted $2,000,000 that they directed through the Public Health Trust into an anti-smokeless campaign in rural areas of California to encourage youth at rodeos, stock car races and county fairs to “Buck Tobacco.” More info: http://www.bucktobacco.org/ and http://www.publichealthtrust.org/grants/index.html.

NRDC and ELF vs. PRICE PFISTER, INC., et al.

(leaded water faucets)

ELF joined NRDC and the Attorney General in the first ever attack on lead in drinking water, to force faucet manufacturers to stop using lead alloys in their manufacturing. The companies fought all the way to the California Supreme Court for the right to keep poisoning their customers, but the Court responded with its first ever decision under Prop 65, holding that the law was passed by the people as a remedial measure that must be broadly interpreted to protect public health, and that the water that comes out of your faucet is indeed “a source of drinking water.” The Companies eventually agreed to “get the lead out,” and paid millions of dollars to aid in Prop 65 enforcement. Price Pfister alone paid $2.4 million in penalties, to trust funds for toxics and fees. ELF pursued additional rounds to make sure every manufacturer, importer and retailer stopped selling leaded faucets.

NRDC and ELF vs. BADGER METER, INC., et al.

(leaded water meters)

Lead is a dangerous, toxic chemical. It has also been a part of the alloy used in plumbing fixtures for decades. Following their victories in dealing with water faucets (see NRDC and ELF vs. PRICE PFISTER, INC., et al.), ELF and NRDC successfully pursued legal action to “get the lead out” of water meters, the single largest brass component in any home plumbing system. After decades of foot dragging, the four major meter manufacturers agreed to a crash course to find an unleaded substitute, and to subsidize purchases by water districts of unleaded alternatives made by smaller, rival companies. The program worked and every meter manufacturer, large and small, now sells unleaded version, and some companies sell unleaded meters exclusively. Proving once again that California can drive the national market for products that are better for public health and the environment.


(leaded water meters)

In the course of investigating leaded alloys in water meters (see NRDC and ELF vs. BADGER METER, INC., et al), ELF learned that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, uniquely in the nation, had specifications that required lower levels of lead in the alloy used to make its water meters. Schlumberger and other contractors ignored that specification for over ten years, and instead sold LA meters that were cheaper and had more lead. ELF brought a False Claims Act action, eventually taken over by the City of LA and the State of California, that resulted in Schlumberger agreeing not to provide the lower lead alloy, but lead free meters, and to do it for free for five years, making the largest water district in the nation the first one to go “lead free.” Other districts around California have now followed suit, helping to catalyse change in an entire industry.


(bottled water)

ELF and NRDC tested hundreds of brands of bottled waters throughout the country, and found that 25% had some kind of contamination. ELF sued the companies in California that had contamination from lead, arsenic and bacteria. Every company agreed to clean up their act. Crystal Geyser in particular was an industry leader, and installed filtration systems to remove all arsenic even before the suit was resolved, and has since made generous contributions to protect drinking water throughout the state.



California law regulates the levels of heavy metals (such as lead and cadmium) allowed in fertilizers, and requires high levels be disclosed on the packages. The Ironite Company could not meet California's standards, because its fertilizer was being manufactured from mine tailings at a potential Superfund site. Nonetheless, it steadfastly refused to disclose the high levels of toxic metals on labels its packages to warn customers, as the law required. ELF brought Ironite to court, and Ironite -- after initially filing frivolous claims that its "free speech rights" were violated if it had to warn about toxic metals -- agreed to reformulate its products to get rid of the heavy metals altogether, and to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the effort to clean up California's waters.


(vended water)

California has strict limits for contaminants allowed in bottled and vended water (vended water is water from machines, usually located in or outside grocery stores, that dispense regular tap water that has been filtered for a small fee). After successfully cleaning up bottled waters, ELF tested
scores of vending machines throughout the state, following up on path-breaking work by the Los Angeles Department of Weights and Measures, and found that roughly one third of the 7,000 vending machines operated by the largest vended water company in the State dispensed water that violated regulatory standards for trihalomethanes, a group of chemicals (by-products of chlorination) associated with cancer, miscarriages and birth defects. As a result, consumers looking for a better product were actually paying for something no better than their own tap water. The company agreed to conduct a massive study, isolate the problem, and has taken corrective steps in their maintenance regime to finally eliminate the problem.