Washington — Lowe’s Home Centers, one of the nation’s largest home improvement retailers, has agreed to implement a comprehensive, corporate-wide compliance program at its over 1,700 stores nationwide to ensure that the contractors it hires to perform work minimize lead dust from home renovation activities, as required by the federal Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. The company will also pay a $500,000 civil penalty, which is the largest ever for violations of the RRP Rule.
The settlement stems from violations, discovered by EPA inspectors, of the RRP Rule’s recordkeeping and work practice standards at private homes that had been renovated by Lowe’s contractors. EPA enforces the RRP and other lead rules to protect children and others who are vulnerable to exposure to lead dust that can cause lead poisoning.
“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,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Lowe’s is taking responsibility for the actions of the firms it hires, and EPA expects other contractors to do the same.”
“Today’s settlement requires Lowe’s to institute a robust, nationwide program at over 1,700 of its stores to ensure that the contractors it hires to perform renovation projects, like window and door installation, are properly certified and adhere to practices that help prevent lead contamination in customers’ homes,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This action, the first of its kind to address lead safe work practices on a system-wide basis, 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.”
EPA discovered the violations through a review of records from projects performed by renovators working under contract for the following Lowe’s stores: 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.
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. 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. EPA’s investigation was prompted by tips and complaints submitted by the public.
In addition to the civil penalty, Lowe’s must implement a comprehensive compliance program to ensure that the contractors it hires to perform work for its customers comply with the RRP Rule during renovations of any child-occupied facilities, such as day-care centers and pre-schools, and any housing that was built before 1978. For these projects, Lowe’s must contract with only EPA-certified renovators, ensure they maintain certification, and ensure they use lead safe work practices checklists during renovations. In addition, Lowe’s must suspend anyone that is not operating in compliance with the rule, investigate all reports of potential noncompliance, and ensure that any violations are corrected.
The RRP Rule, which implements the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, is intended to ensure that owners and occupants of housing built before 1978, as well as any child-occupied facilities, receive information on lead-based paint hazards before renovations begin, that individuals performing such renovations are properly trained and certified by EPA, and follow specific work practices to reduce the potential for lead-based paint exposure. Home improvement companies such as Lowe’s that contract with renovators to perform renovation work for their customers must ensure that those contractors comply with all of the requirements of the RRP Rule.
Lead-based paint was banned in 1978 but still remains in many homes and apartments across the country. Lead dust hazards can occur when lead paint deteriorates or is disrupted during home renovation and remodeling activities. Lead exposure can cause a range of health problems, from behavioral disorders and learning disabilities to seizures and death, putting young children at the greatest risk because their nervous systems are still developing.
In February 2014, EPA announced enforcement actions that require 35 renovation firms and training providers to take additional steps to protect communities by minimizing harmful lead dust from home renovation activities, as required by the RRP Rule. Those settlements generated a total of $274,000 in civil penalties.
Renovators that are certified under EPA’s RRP Rule are encouraged to display EPA’s “Lead-Safe” logo on worker’s uniforms, signs, websites, and other material, as appropriate. Consumers can protect themselves by looking for the logo before hiring a home renovator.
Lowe’s operates over 1,700 stores throughout the U.S., with over 120 additional stores located in Canada and Mexico. Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, formerly known as Lowe’s Home Centers, Inc. and Lowe’s HIW, Inc., is headquartered in Mooresville, N.C.
The consent decree was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Notice of the lodging of the consent decree will appear in the Federal Register allowing for a 30-day public comment period before the consent decree can be entered by the court as final judgment. To view the consent decree: www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html