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EPA is Empowering the Public and Cracking Down on Rogue Contractors

Recent actions by the EPA may lead some to believe it’s increasingly intolerant of lead-based paint exposure. The agency is stepping up the education of people most at risk – encouraging them to report RRP violations – and doling out hefty fines for contractors who misbehave. Click on for details.

7 September, 2023

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is continuing with its stepped up effort to get civic leaders, community members, and contractors/affected businesses who are involved in lead abatement to take the issue more seriously. Last month, in an effort to increase community involvement, the Agency released the Environmental Justice Toolkit for Lead Paint Enforcement Programs.

This booklet provides a list of best practices of the EPA’s lead strategy, which seeks to reduce lead exposures locally — with a focus on underserved communities — as well as to promote environmental justice through a “whole of government” approach. It includes a section on community engagement so that those who may be impacted by lead dust can better identify and report issues. “Communicating with communities is not only a right, but a legal responsibility,” the Toolkit states.

The Toolkit is designed to help communities most impacted by the lead paint issue better understand how to communicate with agencies involved in abatement, as well as providing methods for how to target inspections in overburdened communities. It also contains information and examples on remedies available that enhance environmental justice. The press release also shows the average citizen how to identify and report violations regarding lead paint.  

Any lead dust is too much

One of the newer themes in these efforts is to instruct people that no amount of lead dust in a structure can be considered safe (For more information on this, please see last week’s Paint News. “The science is clear, there is no safe level of exposure to lead, and health impacts from exposure to lead-based paint continue to be a significant problem in the United States, particularly in underserved and overburdened communities,” said Larry Starfield, EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This Toolkit is an important new resource for enforcement personnel working with communities to reduce lead exposures.”

EPA penalizes contractors in violation

There have been some stiff fines, and even jail time, for violators. Just recently, the United States entered into a consent decree with a contractor that includes a $606,706 civil penalty — the second largest civil penalty ever imposed under the RRP Rule — and also requires the penalized company to take steps to mitigate potential harms caused by its conduct. “This company’s actions were inexcusable; they are also all too common,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia.

The New York-based company had worked on hundreds of apartments between 2015 and 2021, and according to the EPA’s report, “it lacked required certifications, failed to train its workers on lead-safe work practices, and failed to inform the building owner and occupants of the risks of lead poisoning during that renovation.”

The contractor acknowledged the following violations took place at one or more projects; the government added that fines would be significantly higher if these practices continued:
•    Failing to adequately contain construction dust, including dust containing lead in excess of levels permitted under the RRP Rule.
•    Failing to assign a certified renovator to oversee the project, or to provide on-the-job lead safety training to workers.
•    Failing to post signs clearly defining its work area and warning occupants and other persons not involved in renovation activities to remain outside of the work area.
•    Failing to provide a lead-hazard information pamphlet to the owner or occupants of the building before commencing work.

Earlier in 2023, a Chicago-area company was smacked with a $400,000 penalty for violation of the RRP rule because its contractors were not certified or trained in lead-safe work practices. The company was further required to perform two million dollars’ worth of lead-based paint abatement work in lower-income properties located in Chicago and Chicago suburbs in communities with a higher incidence of childhood lead poisoning, as well as step up its own policing of the RRP rule by ensuring it only hired contractors who were lead-certified.

An Indiana contractor, the EPA reported, was sentenced to 16 months in prison “for violating the Toxic Substance Control Act, specifically the provisions of the Act concerning lead paint renovations, and for obstructing justice by fabricating records to obstruct a federal grand jury.” This contractor had previously received federal funds for lead paint abatement, the article continued.

The toolkit is available here.

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