Lowe's Home Centers will pay a record $500,000 civil penalty to settle allegations that contractors it hired for home projects violated the federal Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today.
The penalty--by far the largest ever imposed for an RRP violation--stems from investigations at 13 of Lowe's 1,700 stories nationwide in which EPA reviewed records from projects performed by companies working under contract to Lowe's. ( See details.)
"The government complaint alleged that Lowe’s failed to provide documentation showing that specific contractors had been certified by EPA, had been properly trained, had used lead-safe work practices, or had correctly used EPA-approved lead test kits at renovation sites," EPA said in a news release. "Additionally, EPA’s investigation found that Lowe’s had also failed to ensure that work areas had been properly contained and cleaned during renovations at three homes."
A Lowe’s spokeperson stressed to REMODELING in a telephone interview that the big-box retailer "has had an aggressive lead-based paint renovation compliance program in place since the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule went into effect. There have never been any reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with any projects completed by Lowe’s contractors." The government's complaints mainly involved paperwork, she said, stating: "Lowe’s hires thousands of independent, third-party contractors and the EPA identified only a few who failed to meet certain recordkeeping or work practice requirements regarding lead-based paint. Lowe’s cooperated with the EPA and has resolved all issues alleged by the EPA."
As part of its settlement, Lowe's must institute "a robust, nationwide program" to ensure its contractors are properly certified to do renovations in areas where lead paint might be present and to adhere to practices that minimize lead contamination in customers' homes. That program includes a checklist that contractors must follow to assure they follow-lead safe practices. Contractors won't get paid until they complete the checklist, an EPA official said.
Today's announcement is the first of its kind to address lead safe work practices on a system-wide basis and "will help prevent children’s exposure to lead in communities across the nation by raising home improvement contractors’ awareness of EPA’s lead safety regulations and contributing to a culture of compliance,” Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, was quoted as saying.
Use of lead paint in homes was banned in 1978 because it was found to damage the health of residents, particularly developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders--even seizures and death--mainly involving infants, small children, and the elderly. The RRP rule seeks to minimize the harms that could come when lead paint on the walls is disturbed during renovation projects.
“Today’s settlement sends a clear message to all contractors and the firms they hire: Get lead certified and comply with the law to protect children from exposure to dangerous lead dust,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in the EPA news release. “Lowe's is taking responsibility for the actions of the firms it hires, and EPA expects other contractors to do the same.”
"Big-box home improvement dealers are responsible for the contractors they hire," Dreyer declared during a teleconference with reporters.
Today's announcement comes two days after EPA's Boston office announced that four New England firms will pay penalties ranging from $2,200 to $30,000 to settle allegations they violated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules for doing renovations that could disturb lead paint. That news followed another recent settlement in which two firms paid fines totaling $14,455 to settle allegations involving a project in Maine, as well as EPA's announcement that it was sending letters to 200 home renovation and painting contractors in Connecticut about a planned "compliance assistance and enforcement initiative."
Most RRP-related enforcement activity has been in New England, but the Lowe's investigation was nationwide. The Lowe’s stores that EPA checked were in Alton, Ill.; Kent and Trotwood, Ohio; Bedford, N.H.; Southington, Conn.; South Burlington, Vt.; Rochester, N.Y.; Savannah and Lebanon, Tenn.; Boise, Idaho Falls, and Nampa, Idaho; and Muldoon, Ark.