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EPA and DOJ fine Lowe's $500,000 for lead paint removal violations

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The Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with Lowe's Home Centers that includes a $500,000 fine. The actions resulted from violations of the federal Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule, designed to minimize exposure to harmful lead dust from home renovation activities.

The monetary penalty is the largest ever issued for violations of these requirements. Furthermore, the conditions of the settlement apply to all of Lowe's home improvement stores nationwide, encompassing over 1700 facilities.

Under the terms of the settlement, Lowe's must ensure that its contractors comply with the RRP Rule during renovations of any child-occupied facilities, such as day-care centers and pre-schools, and any pre-1978 housing. Only EPA-certified renovators may be used and Lowe's must ensure they maintain certification and use lead safe work practices checklists during renovations. Additionally, Lowe’s must suspend those found to be out of compliance with the rule, investigate all reports of potential noncompliance, and ensure that any violations are corrected.

Acting upon tips and complaints from suspicious homeowners and others, EPA launched an investigation that revealed violations of the standard were made by Lowe's contractors in nine different states. None of the violations were discovered in Bakersfield, Kern County, or other areas of California, where Lowe's also operates several stores.

During a telephone conference with media representatives following its press release, both EPA and the Department of Justice noted that their investigation was not exhaustive. Additionally, their representatives had no data to indicate how widespread the violations were nor how many contractors were violating the requirements. They did note, however, that several contractors were found to be operating in compliance with the RRP Rule.

The RRP Rule implements the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Its purpose is to ensure that owners and occupants of housing built before 1978, as well as any child-occupied facilities, are notified about lead-based paint hazards before renovations begin, that only trained and EPA certified individuals are used who also follow specific work practices to reduce the potential for lead-based paint exposure. According to EPA at the media conference, exposure to lead has been shown to affect more black and Latino minorities than others, thus raising serious Environmental Justice issues as well.

“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.”

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