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Department of Veterans Affairs Agrees to $133,000 Settlement For Lead Paint Disclosure Violations in Maine and Massachusetts

Release Date: 04/06/04
Contact Information: Contact: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1042

For Immediate Release: April 6, 2004; Release #04-04-04

BOSTON - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to pay a $10,068 penalty and perform environmental projects worth $123,050 to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it failed to properly inform tenants about potential lead hazards at employee housing provided by the department.

The three EPA complaints allege violations of the federal Lead Disclosure Rule for employee housing at VA Medical Centers in Northampton and Bedford, Mass. and Togus, Maine. The three medical centers include a total of about 41 on-site housing units, which the VA leases to employees and their families. Settlement of this case represents the first time a federal facility has paid a penalty for violations of the Lead Disclosure Rule.

In addition to paying the fine, the VA agreed to assign a person to be responsible for environmental compliance at each facility, and to implement a lead-based paint abatement project in employee housing at a total cost of $123,050. Of the case penalty, the Bedford facility will pay $3,080; the Togus facility will pay $3,908; and the Northampton facility will pay $3,080. This case abates health risks posed by lead paint in 16 units of employee housing divided between the three locations and addresses the facilities' underlying barriers to compliance.

The lead-based paint abatement project involves assessing the risk, reducing exposure to lead and managing remaining lead paint in employee housing. The assessment phase was previously performed by the VA using a certified risk-assessment contractor that evaluated the condition and risk posed by the lead paint. The VA will then hire a certified contractor to reduce lead paint health risks by replacing, enclosing, and removing paint in the housing. Finally, the VA will develop and put in place a program to control future lead paint hazards in employee housing.
As a federal facility, and in their role as a landlord, the VA is obligated to follow federal rules that require tenants to be notified of potential lead paint hazards in the rental units. EPA's complaints allege that on multiple occasions the VA failed to properly notify tenants of potential lead paint hazards.

The case is among numerous lead-related civil and criminal cases EPA New England has taken to make sure landlords and property owners and managers are complying with the federal Lead Disclosure Rule. EPA New England's work to implement the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act has included more than 150 inspections around New England, as well as numerous compliance assistance workshops.

EPA discovered these lead-based paint violations during a comprehensive environmental inspection, which are done routinely at federal facilities in New England. EPA conducts enforcement inspections and provides extensive compliance assistance such as training seminars, on-site visits and educational conferences for federal facilities. This is a concentrated effort to bring about long-term environmental compliance with all federal and state environmental laws at federal agencies. EPA has worked for more than 10 years with the 11 Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals in New England. EPA and the VA are sponsoring a two-day environmental compliance training for New England VA Management on May 25 and 26. This training will be taped by the VA and broadcast nationally to all VA hospitals across the country.

"This case serves notice that everyone who rents or sells real estate - from individuals up to federal agencies - must take the required basic steps to inform tenants and purchasers about lead hazards," said Robert W. Varney, Regional Administrator for EPA's New England Office. "This settlement, developed with the cooperation of VA directors, will alleviate the lead disclosure problem at New England VA centers by raising awareness of the disclosure requirements. This action will also help to promote environmental compliance at the other 162 VA Medical Centers nationwide, thus protecting veterans, VA employees and their families."

Low-level lead poisoning is widespread among American children, affecting as many as three million children under the age of six, with lead paint the primary cause. Elevated lead levels can trigger learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity, impaired hearing and even brain damage. Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from difficulties during pregnancy, other reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.

Federal law requires that sellers and landlords selling or renting housing built before 1978 must: provide an EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet, called "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home"; include lead notification language in sales and rental forms; disclose any known lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards in the living unit and provide available reports to prospective buyers or renters, prior to signing purchase and sale contracts and lease documents; allow a lead inspection or risk assessment by home buyers; and maintain records certifying compliance with federal laws for a period of three years. Sellers, lessors, real estate agents and property managers all share responsibility for such compliance.

Related information:
Internet Training Course: Lead Safety for Remodeling, Repair, and Painting (EPA HQ)
Lead Poisoning, Lead Paint, etc.
Lead Paint Enforcement Program
Lead Paint Disclosure Rules