Home Depot agrees to record $20 million fine over failure to follow lead paint guidelines

5 things to know about Home Depot 1. The Home Depot is the world's largest home improvement retailer, boasting over 2,200 stores in North America. 2. The chain was founded by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank in 1978. The current CEO is Craig Menear. 3. The first two stores opened June 22, 1979, in Atlanta, where the company is still headquartered. 4. Home Depot has about 400,000 associates total and 10,000 employees in 62 metro Atlanta stores. 5. In 2016, Home Depot posted a record $94.6 billion in sales, a

The world’s largest home improvement retailer has agreed to pay more than $20 million in penalties over failures to follow work-safe practices about lead paint dust and chips.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that Atlanta-based Home Depot has reached a settlement over violations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lead renovation, repair and painting rule at home renovations performed by Home Depot’s contractors across the nation.

Utah, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which have EPA-authorized RRP programs, joined the federal government in the action.

The settlement, lodged in the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, requires Home Depot to implement a company-wide program ensuring the firms and contractors it hires are certified and trained to use lead-safe work practices to avoid spreading lead dust and paint chips during home renovations. Home Depot will pay a $20.75 million penalty, the highest civil penalty under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Of that penalty, $750,000 will be paid to Utah, $732,000 to Massachusetts and $50,000 to Rhode Island.

“Today’s settlement will significantly reduce children’s exposure to lead paint hazards,” said Susan Bodine, EPA’s assistant administrator for its office of enforcement and compliance assurance. “Home Depot will implement system-wide changes to ensure that contractors who perform work in homes constructed before 1978 are EPA-certified and follow lead-safe practices. EPA expects all renovation companies to ensure their contractors follow these critical laws that protect public health.”

“These instances do not represent our high standards and expectations,” said Home Depot spokesperson Margaret Smith. “When we found out about this, we moved quickly to contact all customers who might have been impacted and we significantly strengthened our lead safety systems and approach.”

In a Thursday website posting, Home Depot also said it is “committed to lead safety and safe work practices for our associates, partners, and customers. That’s why the company expects all installers to not only do a great job, but also safely complete their work while following the required protocols and legal requirements, including lead safety.”

“These were serious violations,” said Jonathan Brightbill, the Justice Department’s principal deputy assistant attorney general. “The stiff penalty Home Depot will pay reflects the importance of using certified firms and contractors in older home renovations. Contractors hired for most work in homes built prior to 1978, when lead based paint was in widespread use, must be certified. These contractors have the training to recognize and prevent the hazards that can be created when lead paint is disturbed.”

EPA said it discovered the violations when investigating five customer complaints about Home Depot renovations in Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The violations showed Home Depot subcontracted work to firms that sometimes did not use lead-safe work practices, including post-renovation cleaning, providing EPA-required lead-based paint pamphlets to occupants, or maintaining records of compliance.

EPA then reviewed Home Depot’s records of renovations and identified hundreds of instances in which the company sent uncertified firms to perform renovations that required certified and trained contractors.

For the most serious violations under the settlement, Home Depot offered its customers inspections using certified professionals and, if dust lead hazards were found, it performed specialized cleaning and verification.

Home Depot is required to implement a company-wide program to ensure the contractors it hires to perform work comply with the RRP rule during renovations of homes built before 1978. The company is implementing an electronic compliance system to verify its contractors are properly certified and will now require its contractors to use a detailed checklist to document compliance.

“As soon as we found out there may be concerns with lead compliance and documentation, we proactively reviewed all contracts dating back to when the EPA’s rule went into effect in 2010 and identified the customers who may have been impacted, reached out to them, and set up third-party independent inspections of their homes,” Smith said. “If lead was detected, we took care of it, and the inspection company conducted a cleanup, at our expense, following EPA’s standards.

“The company-wide compliance program, electronic compliance system and project checklists are all in place today,” Smith said. “We also conduct regular audits and on-site inspections to make sure these standards are being met.”

Home Depot will also conduct thousands of on-site inspections of work performed by its contractors to ensure they comply with lead-safe work practices. In instances in which the contractor didn’t comply, Home Depot will perform an inspection for dust lead hazards and provide specialized cleanings.

In addition to the requirements related to its renovations, Home Depot will provide information about following lead-safe work practices to its professional and do-it-yourself customers in its stores, on website, YouTube and workshops.

Residential lead-based paint use was banned in 1978 but still remains in many older 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 children at the greatest risk because their nervous systems are still developing. A blood lead test is the only way to determine if a child has a high lead level. Parents who think their child has been in contact with lead dust should contact their child’s health care provider.

In Other News