Home Depot under fire over lead paint removal

Home Depot was fined in Colorado for paint removal practices by contractors. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Home Depot was fined in Colorado for paint removal practices by contractors. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Home Depot faces investigations and fines for a series of cases in which its contractors mishandled lead paint removal in at least three states.

Three federal agencies have said they are looking into the actions of contractors working for the Atlanta-based home improvement giant in Connecticut, Maine and Colorado, an issue first reported by WSB-TV on Thursday, following the station’s own investigation.

A fine of $37,000 has been levied on Home Depot in Colorado, WSB reported.

A spokesman for company declined to discuss specifics of the cases, but said Home Depot is cooperating with authorities in all the lead paint cases.

“We are going to take care of our customers,” said Stephen Holmes. “We will be privately contacting customers whose jobs will require follow-up.”

The Environmental Protection Agency told WSB that it is pursuing a criminal and civil investigation of Home Depot’s actions. The U.S. Department of Justice also said it is investigating. Separately, the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration told WSB that it had fined the company for actions by its contractors in Colorado.

Home Depot uses contractors for most in-home work. The company has said its vets those contractors, and is generally responsible for them.

Scientific research has shown that lead-based paint is dangerous, and that ingesting it can severely damage brain development and harm health in general. The effect is especially intense for children.

Several cases involving Home Depot came in homes where young children lived. In an Augusta, Maine, case, a toddler’s fingerprints were seen imprinted in dust from paint removal that had drifted into the child’s crib, WSB reported. The child’s mother was pregnant at the time.

Virtually all construction after 1978 was required to avoid lead-based paint. The standards for handling and removing that paint have been in place since 2010. They are generally aimed at minimizing and containing dust or paint chips.

A Georgia Tech-trained expert in paint removal told WSB that a contractor might save money by cutting corners on the removal.

The Home Depot division that hires contractors that handle installations accounts for 4 percent of its nearly $90 billion business, but the removal work itself represents just a fraction of that 4 percent, Holmes said.