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Federal Agencies Ramp Up Home Depot Probe

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

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Atlanta-based home improvement company The Home Depot faces investigations and fines in at least three states after its contractors allegedly mishandled the removal of lead paint.

Atlanta’s WSB-TV reported Thursday (April 27) that three federal agencies are looking into the actions of Home Depot contractors in Connecticut, Maine and Colorado, the latter of which resulted in a $37,065 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in January 2016.

The Environmental Protection Agency told WSB that it is pursuing criminal and civil investigations of The Home Depot’s actions. The U.S. Department of Justice also said it is investigating.

The EPA reached the Colorado settlement with Atlanta-based THD At-Home Services following a June 2015 compliance inspection. THD, a Home Depot subsidiary, was the general contractor for a home renovation project in Arvada, Colorado. Testing had confirmed the presence of lead-based paint in the home.

The settlement alleged that the company didn’t ensure waste debris and dust at the project site were properly contained. Also, the work area was not fully cleaned of dust, debris, and residue in accordance with federal requirements.

The Home Depot and the EPA did not immediately respond Monday (May 1) to a request for additional comment.

Call to Action

In March, The Home Depot faced pressure from shareholder Arjuna Capital, which called for the company to address the issue of the exposure of children to lead hazards.

The company responded to pressure from Arjuna by committing to a national lead-safety campaign, which includes in-store awareness events; online messages, digital and social media initiatives; and enhanced lead-safety training for new employees. 

The Home Depot spokesman Stephen Holmes wouldn’t discuss any of the specifics related to the investigation, but he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the company is cooperating with authorities.

 “We are going to take care of our customers,” Holmes said. “We will be privately contacting customers whose jobs will require follow-up.”

The Home Depot, which uses contractors for most in-home work, said it vets all contractors and is generally responsible for them. The company’s division that hires contractors for installations accounts for 4 percent of its nearly $90 billion business.

Prior Investigation

This is not the first time The Home Depot has been targeted in this type of probe. The company received subpoenas from the district attorney of Alameda County, California, in November 2013.

A number of district attorneys and the California attorney general's office sought information about Home Depot's disposal of hazardous waste at its California facilities. The district attorneys are pursuing monetary penalties, and are seeking changes to The Home Depot's operations policies.

Toxic Effects

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, lead is a highly toxic metal that may cause a range of health issues, especially in young children. Lead absorbed into the body can cause damage to the brain and vital organs such as the kidneys, nerves and blood. Lead also can cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and seizures. Deaths have been reported in extreme cases.

Photo courtesy of The Home Depot

Three federal agencies are delving into the actions of Home Depot contractors in Connecticut, Maine and Colorado, who are accused of mishandling lead paint during renovations.

Most residential construction projects begun after 1978 were required to avoid lead-based paint, and standards for handling and removing lead paint, in the form of the EPA's Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, have been in place since 2010.

Company Background

The Home Depot has 2,200 stores in three countries: the United States, Canada and Mexico. It is the 10th- largest employer in the U.S., with 360,000 workers.

The Home Depot is the world's largest home-improvement specialty retailer, with 2,278 retail stores in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, 10 Canadian provinces and Mexico. In fiscal 2016, the company had sales of $94.6 billion and earnings of $8 billion.

Editor's note: This article was edited at 8:45 a.m. on May 3 for clarification on lead-based paint projects.

Editor's note: This story was one of our most popular of 2017, and appeared in our Readers' Choice issue on Dec. 28.


Tagged categories: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Home Depot; Lead; Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP); Regulations; Renovation

Comment from Jesse Melton, (5/2/2017, 8:10 AM)

Arjuna is a capital group the same way chickens are scrambled eggs. Related, but entirely different.

They're a pressure group and exist as a platform to drive attention to their investors soapboxes. It's like lobbying, but less regulated.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/3/2017, 8:21 AM)

Clarification: Most RESIDENTIAL construction projects begun after 1978 were required to avoid lead-based paint. Lead paint was still widely used after that for things like steel bridges.

Comment from Brandy Hadden, (5/3/2017, 8:45 AM)

Hi, Tom! Thanks for reading—closely! That has been clarified in the story.

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