Lowe’s settles lead paint complaints with EPA

Mooresville-based Lowe’s Inc., has agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and change its practices for renovating residential properties contaminated with lead paint, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

The settlement stems from Lowe’s use of third-party contractors it hires to install items such as windows and doors for homeowners. The EPA said Lowe’s and the contractors didn’t keep required records about the removal of lead paint and on at least three occasions didn’t properly contain and clean up the paint.

“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,” EPA assistant administrator Cynthia Giles said in a statement.

Lowe’s has cooperated with the government’s probe, said spokeswoman Amanda Manna. She said the home improvement retailer hires thousands of independent contractors to complete projects, and the EPA’s investigation revealed “only a few” who had problems.

“There have never been any reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with any projects completed by Lowe’s contractors,” said Manna.

Lead hasn’t been allowed in paint for residences since 1978, but many older structures still have lead paint on their walls, sometimes buried beneath newer layers. Renovation work, such as sanding, can scrape up this paint and send it into the atmosphere, potentially exposing people to lead.

The EPA says children are especially vulnerable and can suffer brain damage, behavior problems, learning disabilities, slowed growth and anemia. Pregnant women can also suffer miscarriages, birth defects or other problems with their fetuses.

According to the EPA’s complaint against Lowe’s, the government found the home improvement retailer didn’t provide documentation that some of its contractors were properly trained, used lead-safe work practices or properly used EPA-approved kits to test for lead at work sites.

At three homes, the EPA found Lowe’s contractors had failed to ensure lead was “properly contained and cleaned” during renovations.

The investigation was prompted by complaints from the public, the EPA said.

In addition to its $500,000 fine, Lowe’s agreed to put a stronger compliance program in place. The company will hire only EPA-certified contractors to work in homes built before 1978, suspend any contractors not in compliance, and investigate and correct any violations.

Lowe’s operates 1,830 stores in North America, and its sales topped $53 billion in 2013.