NY Construction Firm Settles Lead Paint Lawsuit

THURSDAY, MARCH 2, 2023


At the end of last month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the United States has entered into consent decrees setting a civil lawsuit against a New York construction company for violating lead-based paint safety regulations.

The consent decrees resolve a lawsuit filed in a Manhattan federal court last year, alleging that the entities violated the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the EPA’s Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule over the course of renovating several Manhattan apartment buildings. 

Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that the defendants violated these rules by failing to provide the EPA with records necessary to enable the EPA to monitor the defendants’ compliance. 

“CISNE NY Construction, Inc. put the public health at risk by failing to abide by lead-safe work practices during renovations of residential buildings,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.

“These consent decrees will help ensure that CISNE NY’s principals abide by safety standards moving forward and send a message that companies and the individuals that run them cannot prioritize profits over complying with health and safety regulations.”

What Happened

In January 2022, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that a civil lawsuit had been filed against CISNE NY Construction, Inc., CISNE JE Construction, Inc., CISNE Contracting, Inc. and their principals Jose Pancha and Edison Ruilova (together, the “CISNE Defendants”) for violating lead-based paint safety regulations.

The suit was filed by U.S. Attorney Damian Williams and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Administrator Lisa Garcia.

According to the DOJ, the CISNE Defendants repeatedly violated the federal TSCA and the EPA’s RRP Rule, which outline safety requirements designed to minimize young children, tenants and renovation workers being exposed to toxic lead paint dust created during residential building renovations.

Filed in Manhattan federal court, the complaint alleges that the CISNE Defendants repeatedly failed to use legally required safety precautions when renovating apartments that had been presumed by law to contain lead paint, having been built prior to 1978.

According to inspectors from the EPA and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, during a jobsite visit officials found that the CISNE Defendants failed to contain debris and dust during their work. The inspectors reported that construction dust—a known exposure hazard—was found not just in the units being worked on, but also in the public hallways accessible to other building residents.

After sampling the hazardous material, officials reported that lead contents found in the dust exceeded both local and federal safety standards.

In addition to failing to contain dust and debris during renovations, the CISNE Defendants have also been alleged of failing to post warning signs at the residential jobsites receiving renovations or taking other steps required by law to protect tenants and workers. As a result of the discovered negligence, the EPA and New York officials report the CISNE Defendants ultimately risked exposing tenants and workers to lead paint dust and had violated TSCA and the RRP Rule.

Upon conducting further investigations, the complaint also includes an additional allegation against the CISNE Defendants, claiming that for years the defendants performed renovations in New York City apartment buildings without the required training or certifications.

This was included in the suit after CISNE Defendants failed to provide EPA with legally mandated records that would allow EPA to audit their work.  

In the suit, officials were seeking an injunction barring the CISNE Defendants from performing further work governed by the TSCA and the RRP Rule without complying with mandated safety requirements. The suit also sought an order requiring the CISNE Defendants to mitigate the harms caused by their prior illegal renovation work.

Recent Consent Decrees

As part of the consent decrees, Paccha and Ruilova reportedly admitted, acknowledged and accepted responsibility for the fact that they were the principals of CISNE who were responsible for ensuring the firm’s compliance with the RRP Rule in 2017 and 2018.

Additionally, they accept responsibly that CISNE “violated the RRP Rule and TSCA” as a result of the following conduct during two Manhattan renovation projects: 

  • Failing to obtain an RRP firm certification prior to conducting renovation work;
  • Failing to have a certified renovator direct the renovations and to ensure that all other persons performing the renovations received training on lead-safe work practices;
  • Failing to post warning signs defining the work areas and cautioning occupants and other persons not involved in the renovation activities to keep out;
  • Failing to provide an EPA pamphlet on lead hazards, The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools, to the owner of the units being renovated;
  • Failing to contain the renovation work areas to minimize the risk of lead exposure;
  • Failing to clean the work areas after the renovations were completed to ensure that no dust, debris or residue remained in those areas; and
  • Failing to make available to EPA the records necessary to demonstrate compliance with the RRP Rule.

“Protecting children from the harmful effects of lead exposure is a top priority for EPA. In New York, where most housing predates the 1978 federal ban on lead in residential paint, lead exposure is a critical public health concern, particularly for children,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia.

“Exposure to chips and dust from lead-based paint can cause irreversible brain damage and other debilitating effects, making it essential for renovators to be certified and trained in lead-safe work practices and to implement these practices when disturbing lead-based paint in homes.”

As a result of the agreement, Ruilova and Paccha will each pay $25,000 in civil penalties, an amount based on each individual’s documented reported inability to pay the full civil penalty for which he otherwise would be liable.

Each individual is also required to receive training before conducting future RRP Rule-covered work and require them to operate any future renovation firm that they own, operate or control in compliance with safe work practices and other RRP Rule requirements.

Failure to comply with the consent decrees will reportedly result in significant additional penalties. 

The consent decrees are reportedly subject to public comment for a period of 30 days before submitted for approval by the District Court.

This case is being handled by the Environmental Protection Unit of the Office’s Civil Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Zack Bannon is in charge of the case.

   

Tagged categories: Civil Penalty; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; Ethics; Good Technical Practice; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lawsuits; Lead; Lead; Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP); Lead rule; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Regulations; Toxicity

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