EPA’s Lead RRP Rule Draws Record Fine
BY: BEN GANN
On April 17, Lowe’s, the nation’s second-largest home improvement retail chain, reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of violations with the federal Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule. As part of the agreement, Lowe’s will implement a comprehensive, corporate-wide compliance program at its over 1,700 U.S. stores to ensure that the contractors it hires to perform work minimize lead dust from home renovation activities. The company will also pay a $500,000 civil penalty, which is the largest ever for violations of the RRP Rule.
The government complaint alleges that Lowe’s failed to provide documentation showing that the contractors it hires to perform renovation projects had been certified by the EPA, had been properly trained, had used lead-safe work practices, or had correctly used EPA-approved lead test kits at renovation sites. Although citing Lowe’s mostly for recordkeeping violations, the EPA’s investigation showed that at three homes, Lowe’s contractors failed to ensure that work areas had been properly contained during renovations and did not clean up after renovations. The EPA discovered the violations through a review of records from projects performed by renovators working under contract for Lowe’s stores in nine states. In addition to the civil penalty, Lowe’s must implement a comprehensive compliance program to ensure that the contractors it hires to perform work for its customers comply with the RRP Rule, and will submit quarterly reports to the EPA for the first year, then biannually after that.
Lowe’s, which has hired thousands of independent, third-party contractors to perform renovations on homes subject to the RRP Rule, has fully complied with the EPA’s investigation and has said none of the issues the agency discovered resulted in any lead-related health problems.
Continued Challenges with the Rule
The record fine imposed on Lowe’s for RRP violations highlights the ongoing problem of the EPA focusing enforcement efforts on paperwork violations rather than on lead-safe work practices. To date, most RRP violations have been for paperwork violations rather than failing to use lead-safe work practices. This flawed approach to enforcement has disproportionately targeted firms certified to perform RRP work rather than uncertified firms and contractors failing to comply with the rule.
Further, the EPA’s consumer education on the rule has been inadequate and nearly nonexistent, causing consumers to hire uncertified contractors because of the increased costs in hiring certified renovators. Consequently, certified firms complying with the RRP Rule cannot compete for much-needed work against non-compliant businesses that, ironically, lack the training to actually perform lead-safe renovations and prevent lead hazard exposures.