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ATLANTA — Atlanta-based The Home Depot Inc. has agreed to pay a $20.75 million fine for violating federal environmental rules for conducting home renovations involving lead paint.

A consent decree filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia requires the giant hardware retailer to implement a corporate-wide program to ensure that the contractors it hires are certified and trained to avoid spreading lead dust and paint chips during home renovation projects.

The fine is the highest civil penalty ever obtained for a settlement under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.

“Today’s settlement will significantly reduce children’s exposure to lead paint hazards,” said Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“Home Depot will implement system-wide changes to ensure that contractors who perform work in homes constructed before 1978 are EPA-certified and follow lead-safe practices. EPA expects all renovation companies to ensure their contractors follow these critical laws that protect public health.”

“These were serious violations,” added Jonathan D. Brightbill, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division. “The stiff penalty Home Depot will pay reflects the importance of using certified firms and contractors in older home renovations.”

EPA discovered the alleged violations while investigating customer complaints about Home Depot renovations in five states that showed Home Depot subcontracted work to firms that in some cases did not use lead-safe work practices.

The agency then conducted a comprehensive review of Home Depot’s records of renovations performed throughout the country and found hundreds of instances in which the company sent uncertified firms to perform renovations that required certified and trained firms.

EPA also discovered cases where Home Depot failed to provide compliance documentation showing that specific contractors had been certified by EPA, were properly trained, and had used lead-safe work practices in home projects.

In the proposed consent decree, Home Depot also agreed to provide information about following lead-safe work practices to its professional and do-it-yourself customers in its stores, on its website, on YouTube, and in workshops.

“The Home Depot is committed to lead safety and safe work practices for our associates, partners and customers,” according to a statement Home Depot released Thursday. “That’s why the company expects all installers to not only do a great job, but also safely complete their work while following the required protocols and legal requirements including lead safety.”

Use of residential lead-based paint was banned in 1978 but still remains in many older homes and apartments across the country. Lead-dust hazards can occur when lead paint deteriorates or is disrupted during home renovation and remodeling activities.

Exposure to lead-based paint can cause a variety of health problems, from behavioral disorders and learning disabilities to seizures and death, putting young children at the greatest risk because their nervous systems are still developing.

The states of Utah, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island joined the federal government in the consent decree, which is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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