By Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lowe's Home Centers, the No. 2 U.S. home improvement retail chain, has agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty for violating federal rules governing lead paint exposure, U.S. authorities said on Thursday.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice said Lowe's had also agreed to implement a new compliance program at more than 1,700 stores nationwide.
Lead exposure can cause a range of health problems, from behavioral disorders and learning disabilities to seizures and death. Young children are at the greatest risk because their nervous systems are still developing.
Lead-based paint was banned in the United States in 1978 but remains in many older homes and apartments. Dust hazards can occur when the paint deteriorates or is disrupted during home renovation and remodeling.
An EPA investigation found that Lowe's could not provide documentation to prove that contractors it hired to work at 13 stores across nine states were certified by the agency, or had used its approved kits to test for lead paint at work sites, the EPA said.
"Today's settlement sends a clear message to all contractors and the firms they hire: Get lead certified and comply with the law to protect children from exposure to dangerous lead dust," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
In a statement Lowe's said it "has had an aggressive lead-based paint renovation compliance program in place since the EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule went into effect" and that there had been no reports of lead-based paint health issues associated with projects completed by its contractors.
Lowe's shares were up nearly 0.3 percent at $46.85 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Aruna Viswanatha in Washington and Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Ros Krasny, Will Dunham and James Dalgleish)