Home Depot, perhaps the largest home improvement contractor in the nation, has received the largest fine levied to date in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of its lead paint testing and remediation rule, a whopping $20.7 million.

For remodelers and home improvement companies around the country, the fine is a clear signal that the EPA intends ongoing and steadfast implementation of the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP) which is designed to protect children against the ravages of ingested lead paint but which also adds a costly and time-consuming layer of compliance before any paint can be disturbed in homes built before 1978.

On Dec. 17, the EPA along with the Department of Justice announced a proposed nationwide settlement with Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. resolving alleged violations of the RRP Rule at home renovations performed by Home Depot’s contractors across the country. The States of Utah, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, which have EPA-authorized RRP programs, also joined the action.

Four States Join Action

The settlement, in a consent decree, requires Home Depot to implement a comprehensive, corporate-wide program to ensure that the firms and contractors it hires to perform work are certified and trained to use lead-safe work practices to avoid spreading lead dust and paint chips during home renovation activities. Home Depot will also pay a $20.75 million penalty, the highest civil penalty obtained to date for a settlement under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Of the $20.75 million penalty, $750,000 will be paid to Utah, $732,000 to Massachusetts, and $50,000 to Rhode Island.

“These instances do not represent our high standards and expectations,” said Home Depot spokesperson Margaret W. 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.”

A number of large and prominent home improvement companies have longstanding agreements with Home Depot to provide a wide range of specialty contracting and replacement services—from windows and siding to roofing and gutters. It is not known yet whether these sell, furnish and install (SFI) relationships are impacted by the government’s action.

“Today’s settlement will significantly reduce children’s exposure to lead paint hazards,” said Susan Bodine, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s 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 were serious violations. The stiff penalty Home Depot will pay reflects the importance of using certified firms and contractors in older home renovations,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “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 discovered the alleged violations when investigating five customer complaints about Home Depot renovations (in Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin), which showed Home Depot subcontracted work to firms that in some cases did not use lead-safe work practices, perform required post-renovation cleaning, provide the EPA-required lead-based paint pamphlets to occupants, or maintain records of compliance with the law.  

EPA then conducted a comprehensive review of Home Depot’s records of renovations performed throughout the United States and identified hundreds of instances in which Home Depot sent uncertified firms to perform renovations that required certified and trained firms. In addition, EPA identified instances in which Home Depot failed to establish, retain, or provide compliance documentation showing that specific contractors had been certified by EPA, had been properly trained, and had used lead-safe work practices in projects performed in homes.

Additional Measures Going Forward

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

In addition to the fines, Home Depot agree to incorporate a number of new systems and processes in order to comply with RRP going forward.

  • The company will implement a company-wide program to ensure that the contractors it hires to perform work for its customers comply with the RRP Rule during renovations of homes built before 1978.
  • To do this, Home Depot is implementing an electronic compliance system to verify that the contractors it hires are properly certified.
  • Home Depot will also require its contractors to use a detailed checklist to document compliance and provide the completed checklist to the customer.
  • The checklist will lead Home Depot’s contractors through the steps required for RRP Rule compliance.
  • 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.
  • Home Depot must also investigate and respond to customer complaints. In instances where the contractor did not comply with Lead Safe Work practices Home Depot will perform an inspection for dust lead hazards and, if they are found, provide a specialized cleaning.
  • For its part, EPA will monitor Home Depot’s responses to customer complaints.

In addition to the requirements related to its renovations, Home Depot will provide important information about following lead-safe work practices to its professional and do-it-yourself customers in its stores, on its website, on YouTube, and in workshops. The RRP Rule does not apply to do-it-yourself projects in your own home.  However, the EPA recommends using the Rule’s lead-safe work practices in your own home projects, so this important information will help families learn how to safely perform home improvement projects to protect themselves, and their children.

Residential lead-based paint use was banned in 1978. Lead dust hazards can occur when lead paint deteriorates or is disrupted during home renovation and remodeling activities. According to EPA, 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.”

The consent decree, filed in U.S. District Court for Northern Georgia, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

To view a copy of the consent decree and for information on how to submit a comment, visit https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees. Further information about the settlement is available on EPA’s website at: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/home-depot-settlement-information-sheet QR

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