ST. LOUIS (AP) - Lowe's Home Centers has agreed to pay a $500,000 federal penalty in settling claims that its contractors in at least nine states broke environmental rules for addressing lead paint dust during home renovation projects, two federal agencies announced Thursday.
As part of the deal announced by the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency, the North Carolina-based home improvement retailer also pledged to adopt a compliance program for dealing with lead paint during the renovation programs offered through its more than 1,700 stores.
The Justice Department's complaint and brokered deal with Lowe's, filed Thursday in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill., accused an unspecified number of Lowe's contractors of not following an EPA rule requiring them to use "lead-safe" practices when working on homes, day-care centers and schools built before 1978. That was the year lead paint was banned for residential use because of health risks.
The lawsuit also claimed contractors failed to adequately complete paperwork showing adherence to safe practices in dealing with lead paint in homes being renovated or repaired, and that the company failed to document that its contractors were properly trained or certified.
The Justice Department and EPA said Thursday's deal constituted some measure of environmental or social justice, noting that many pre-1978 homes are in urban areas commonly populated by minorities.
Lead paint can be especially harmful to children, given that high levels of exposure while their nervous systems are still developing can subject them to possible behavioral disorders and learning disabilities if not detected early. Lead exposure also can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, nervous disorders and memory problems in adults, as well as seizures and sometimes death.
The $500,000 civil penalty agreed to by Lowe's is the biggest for violations of the federal Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, the Justice Department said.
The deal will undergo a public comment period, then be considered for approval by a federal judge.
"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 the 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."
A Lowe's spokeswoman said the company cooperated with the EPA and resolved all issues the agency alleged. Amanda Manna added that Lowes, among the nation's biggest home improvement retailers where homeowners can contract for home projects, also said the contractors in question are a sliver of the thousands the company hires.
No project by a Lowe's contractor dealing with lead-based paint has been shown to have posed health issues, Manna said.
The EPA, as part of a review spurred by consumer tips and complaints, said the violations made public Thursday involved certain Lowe's stores in Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Vermont.