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EPA Busts Sears on Lead Safety

Friday, September 30, 2016

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The home-improvement arm of one of the United States’ largest retailers has settled with the federal government over allegations it failed to ensure that its contractors were following lead-abatement rules while working in customers’ homes.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday (Sept. 28) that it had settled with Sears Home Improvement Products Inc., part of Sears Holdings Corporation, over violations of the EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule, part of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Sears store
Sears Holdings

The Environmental Protection Agency has settled with Sears Home Improvement Products Inc., part of Sears Holdings Corporation, over violations of the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule.

The company will pay $400,000 and will implement a program to ensure the mitigation of lead dust issues at home renovation sites.

Lack of Documentation

The EPA says that requests for documentation on jobs performed in customers’ homes by Sears contractors between 2013 and 2015 turned up 71 renovations where compliance with RRP regulations could not be documented. Regulations that Sears could not prove compliance with include:

  • Assigned renovators must be certified per RRP requirements;
  • Training must be provided to workers on lead-safe practices;
  • Work areas must be properly contained;
  • Waste must be contained onsite and while transported offsite;
  • Work areas must be properly cleaned;
  • A certified renovator must perform post-renovation cleaning verifications; and
  • A certified renovator must deliver a lead hazard information pamphlet to the owner of the home.

The EPA also reports that it found violations at 18 sites in Minnesota where Sears was unable to supply documentation of RRP compliance.

Changes to Be Made

As part of the settlement, the EPA says, Sears Home Improvement Products will implement a company-wide program to both ensure compliance with RRP and go beyond RRP regulations in its lead safety practices.

Lead hazard sign
© / darrentownsend

As part of the settlement, Sears will implement a company-wide program to both ensure compliance with RRP and go beyond RRP regulations in its lead safety practices.

Sears will, among other actions:

  • Require contractors to use an enhanced Installer Renovation Recordkeeping Checklist to certify compliance;
  • Require contractors to provide the completed checklist to customers;
  • Not issue final payment to contractors until Sears receives a copy of the completed checklist;
  • Add a link on its website directing customers to the EPA’s website on lead-safe work practices;
  • Use a company-wide system to track contractors’ RRP certifications; and
  • Suspend anyone not in compliance.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day comment period and final approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Sears did not respond to a request for comment before the deadline for this story, Thursday afternoon (Sept. 29).

In 2015, the EPA settled a similar case with Lowe’s Home Improvement. In that settlement, Lowe’s was ordered to pay $500,000—the largest RRP-related fine ever imposed—and implement programs to ensure its contractors were in compliance. In that case, the EPA pointed out lack of required RRP documentation at 12 Lowe's locations.

About Sears Home Improvement Products

Sears Home Improvement Products is part of the Sears Home Services division of Sears Holdings. Sears Home Improvement contracts with third-party contractors to perform installation and renovation work related to home products customers purchase through Sears, such as windows, doors, roofing and siding.

Sears Home Improvement Products does business in 45 states, according to the EPA. Sears Home Services, which operates in all 50 states and several U.S. territories, makes over 12 million installation and service calls annually.

Sears is the nation’s fourth-largest broadline retailer.


Tagged categories: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Government; Health and safety; Lead; Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP); Maintenance + Renovation; North America; Sears

Comment from Ryan Nugent, (10/3/2016, 9:31 AM)

Chilling. Paperwork violations? Come on. This is why people don't trust government. There are "contractors" out there without renovator certification conducting seriously negligent work in older homes, not using lead-safe practices, and EPA is going after paperwork. Incredible.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/4/2016, 8:32 AM)

Ryan, I'm not sure what you're talking about. Sears contractors were not using lead-safe practices and weren't even trained in using lead-safe practices. Hard to "prove" lead was present since the work was already completed and the untrained contractors didn't bother testing the paint.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/4/2016, 10:55 AM)

Tom, I think you're jumping to conclusions (or at least I hope you are), but you bring up a valid point. Ryan, sure it's "paperwork" but that documentation is what is needed to prove that the work was done right, not by the friend of the manager's brother's childhood buddy who has never heard of the RRP. Sure, it may seem piddly to go after the paperwork, but it's part of enforcing the protections that people wanted for lead paint exposure.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/5/2016, 8:15 AM)

I could be jumping to conclusions. The first citation is the one which made me think I'm not. Even after the fact, Sears should be able to look up which contractor they paid to do the job, and go see if they are on the EPA RRP list. It took me all of 5 seconds to Google up the online EPA locator where you can check. That page even has a link to firms which have been removed or suspended from the RRP program.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/6/2016, 11:02 AM)

Tom, I is one that makes me wonder a bit too, but.... Sears was cited for not being able to prove their contractors were certified, not that they were using uncertified contractors. It could be (and I hope it is) as simple as not having documentation of the contractor's RRP certification in the Sears file for that particular contractor. I was more making the point for Ryan that, even though it is just "paperwork", it is still part of the process....without the paperwork, I can claim anything I want (like M. Halliwell painting is RRP certified)...but I actually have to have the paperwork if I want to prove it (which I wouldn't be able to because there isn't actually an M. Halliwell painting and it is not RRP certified). Cheers

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