(NaturalNews) The world's second-largest home improvement retail store, Lowe's, has agreed to pay a federal penalty of half a million dollars following a deal that was reached with the Justice Department last Thursday.
The disciplinary action comes after Lowe's was caught failing to abide by mandatory practices enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding lead exposure. The Daily Journalreports that the store is attempting to settle a claim involving company-employed contractors in nine different states.
The Justice Department alleges that these contractors broke or completely ignored rules set in place by the EPA addressing public exposure to lead paint dust during home renovation projects.
How many projects were in violation of the EPA's guidelines, and for how long, is unknown.
According to EPA.gov, the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule) requires entities performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and pre-schools built before 1978 to:
be certified by the EPA,
use certified renovators who are trained by EPA-approved training providers
follow lead-safe work practices
In addition to the fine, the North Carolina-based company has agreed to adopt and implement a compliance program throughout its 1,7000 stores, in which renovations involving lead paint will be closely monitored.
Accusations against Lowe's include that its contractors inadequately completed paperwork meant to show adherence to safety practices regarding projects involving lead paint in home renovations. They also failed to prove their that contractors were properly trained and certified.
Exposure to lead can cause very serious health complications, even in small amounts. It is potentially fatal, and particularly dangerous to children. Lead poisoning occurs when the chemical is built up in the body over months or even years through inhalation or ingestion via contaminated hands, food, water or clothing.
Once entered into your digestive or respiratory system, it's released into your blood and distributed throughout your body, with more than 90 percent accumulating in your bones.
Children under the age of six are particularly more vulnerable due to adverse effects on mental and physical development. Some symptoms associated with lead poisoning in adults include:
reduced sperm count
The Justice Department said the civil penalty to be paid by the store is the most severe punishment under the federal lead RRP Rule.
"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 spokeswoman for Lowe's, Amanda Manna, attempted to downplay the company's gross violation by highlighting the fact that the employees in question only account for a small fraction of contractors working for the improvement store.
Manna also argued that no complaints regarding lead exposure that posed a health risk had been filed against the store.
However, consumer tips and complaints made in the past forced the EPA to enact a procedural review of practices involving lead exposure.
Stores in the following states were cited for violations:
Other occupations involving exposure to lead include: