Consent Decree Ends Lead-Based Suit for Home DepotApril 26th, 2021 by Drew Vass
A federal judge signed off on a consent decree last week, ending a lawsuit between the states of Utah, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and Home Depot U.S.A. Inc., alleging that Home Depot violated certain provisions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP). U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen, for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division, approved an agreement by the big box retailer to pay $20.75 million, while implementing new check points and procedures to ensure the company adheres to requirements going forward.
The suit alleges that Home Depot, which contracts with customers to perform renovations in plaintiff states, including the installation of windows, completed projects from around 2013 to at least 2019 for which it falsely changed statuses from “lead test required” to “negative.” While the company isn’t admitting guilt in the allegations, according to the consent decree filed April 22, officials agree to implement procedures to help ensure compliance going forward, while paying penalties. Officials also agree to implement projects and initiatives that provide education and outreach about RRP rules and procedures to customers and contractors, while disciplining installers who fail to comply with requirements.
Within 60 days after entry of the consent decree by the court, the company must provide a copy of the agreement to a newly created Senior RRP Compliance Manager and a written summary of requirements to its regional and area field-service sales employees. Within 30 days, it is also expected to pay a total penalty of $20.75 million, with interest accruing from the date on which the decree is lodged with the court.
Of those funds, $19 million will be paid to the U.S. Department of Justice for penalties owed, while $750,000 will go to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Division of Air Quality, $50,000, plus interest to the Rhode Island Treasurer – Lead Screening Restricted Receipt Account, to be used for lead-based paint abatement projects, and $732,000 to the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards.
In addition to paying penalties and complying with applicable requirements going forward, the company has 30 days to designate an employee to serve as it new Senior RRP Compliance Manager. Other prescribed measures include certifying the use of third-party software to query public records for properties, and other information regarding the year-built date, to automatically determine and upload that information. In cases where the year built cannot be established, the installer or subcontractor must assume it was before 1978, the decree declares.
The company agrees to use only RRP-certified firms or installers going forward, while also documenting and tracking expirations dates for their certifications. During and after projects, contractors and installers must utilize and sign required checklists for safe practices. In cases where installers fail to comply with those and other requirements, Home Depot agrees to discipline those companies, or individuals, while following set procedures for reporting. Meanwhile, the company will be required to perform at least 6,000 jobsite inspections per year of pre-1978 projects, checking for compliance, and to conduct and document proper testing for each project.
On the marketing side, within 30 days company officials must submit proof of an established link to EPA’s website, with information on lead-safe practices, from within the Home Services section of Home Depot’s website. Going forward, the company and its constituent contractors also must document that each customer or occupant received and signed pamphlets detailing lead-related issues and practices, as well as post such documents in common areas of multi-family buildings. Do-it-yourself customers are required to be educated through written materials and videos, describing risks and requirements, as are all in-store customers. In addition to those efforts, the company has agreed to provide online and in-store workshops.
The consent decree constitutes a final judgment of the court, for the U.S., Utah, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and the defendant.