ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has spent months investigating allegations of questionable business practices by Atlanta-based Home Depot, which have led to civil and criminal investigations.
Channel 2's Dave Huddleston uncovered numerous customer complaints about how Home Depot handles lead-based paint removal projects.
“We bought this house so we could live with our children,” a woman we’re calling Margaret told Huddleston. We met Margaret at her home outside Augusta, Maine. We changed her name to protect her identity.
Margaret said her turn of the century house seemed perfect, but it needed some updating. Margaret and her fiancé called Home Depot to replace 17 windows and their home tested positive for lead paint.
"It was kind of a scary situation."
“They just gave us a pamphlet and said we have to charge you an extra fee because your house has tested positive for lead and our contractors know what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Margaret.
The Environmental Protection Agency said paint chips and dust from lead paint are extremely dangerous especially to children, stunting their growth, brain development and learning capabilities. Many homes built before 1978 contain lead-based paint.
Margaret said contractor Patrick McDonnell and his crew got to work.
“Pretty much every day I would clean up behind them,” said Margaret.
Margaret’s fiancé became suspicious because the workers weren’t using any special equipment.
“He had gone upstairs to see if they were putting plastic down and if they were wearing masks and, you know what, they weren’t,” said Margaret. He took a picture of workers without masks on in his bedroom that had removed some windows and placed a frame on the bed.
Margaret, who was five months pregnant and her 2-year-old son were inside the home as crews worked. Her children are now 5 and 2. At the time, she didn’t realize her family was exposed to lead.
“It was kind of a scary situation,” said Margaret.
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Robert Rickett, president of Abatement Professionals, was trained at Georgia Tech. Since 1989, he’s been teaching the proper way to remove lead paint. He showed us a video on how the EPA mandates contractors remove lead paint. All items must be removed from the room, plastic must cover everything and only workers are allowed in the area.
Rickett tested Margaret’s home.
“I think there was ten dust samples that we collected within the home and eight of the 10 samples came back higher than the EPA clearance criteria,” said Rickett.
"I sense that they've tried to sweep it under the rug."
He said in one room, the installers worked around the baby’s crib they left in the room.
“My heart broke,” Rickett said. “You could see the fingerprints of the kid inside the crib in the dust that was generated from the work that was done.”
Rickett said he sent his report to Home Depot.
“They sent the home owner a confidential release and settlement agreement,” said Rickett. “I sense that they’ve tried to sweep it under the rug.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigated and about six months later, fined Home Depot and McDonnell.
This isn’t an isolated incident. During our investigation, we uncovered similar complaints about Home Depot across the country.
In January 2016, Home Depot was slapped with a $37,000 federal fine for not following lead paint safety guidelines in a Colorado home where seven children live.
We also tracked down Lucious Miles. He hired Home Depot to replace the lead paint with siding on his Connecticut duplex.
“They would lay plastic down to catch all the lead and each day they would clean up after themselves,” said Miles.
While we were at Miles’ home, we found paint chips that Miles sids were left from the job two years ago. Miles said once they started the $24,000 job, they didn’t follow any of the safety guidelines. He called the EPA and this is what an agent told him: “Since you started your complaint they’ve been rolling in right behind you,” said Miles.
We contacted the EPA and they confirm they have an active civil and criminal investigation against Home Depot. We also checked with the Department of Justice and they too are investigating the company.
"I would like to see Home Depot held accountable."
Home Depot was forced to disclose the investigation, saying on their website they are aware of the EPA criminal investigation into their lead-safe work practices. We wanted to talk with corporate executives about the investigation, but they told us they couldn’t talk while the investigation is ongoing. They sent us this statement: “We’re going to take care of our customers, as we did in this case. We’re conducting a top-to-bottom review of installations that might have required lead paint work rules, and we’ll be proactively contacting customers whose jobs may require follow-up.”
The investigation has Margaret wondering if her children will be OK.
“I would like to see Home Depot held accountable,” she said.
Cox Media Group