Contractor pleads guilty to violating EPA lead exposure law
- A Pennsylvania contractor has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to violating the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Substances Control Act as it pertains to safe work practices around materials that contain lead and reduction of hazard exposure.
- Authorities allege that Bitner Brothers Construction Co. of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, engaged in the grinding of lead-based paint surfaces in the interior of a small apartment complex, in the presence of children, without first testing the paint for lead and without employing the appropriate safety measures, both of which are required when working on pre-1978 homes, child care facilities and schools under the agency's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program. Charles H. Bitner, Jr., president and owner of the company, is certified under the program but authorities said he was not present when work began and tested the paint for lead after the fact.
- Sentencing is scheduled for Sep. 18. The maximum penalties are five years of probation and a $200,000 fine. During the probation period, Bitner has agreed not to participate in the renovation of buildings where lead is present.
The EPA's lead program launched in 2010 and requires testing of any surface that could be disturbed by construction activity. Construction companies are not even allowed to advertise services for or perform work in structures covered by the rule unless they are certified. This applies to general contractors as well as specialty subcontractors like electricians, carpenters, plumbers and window contractors.
The EPA did outreach to contractors through partners like Angie's List and sponsored educational campaigns, but chances are there are some contractors out there, particularly in states or municipalities with little contractor oversight, who routinely bid and engage in work without realizing they are violating the law. In addition, some states have reported very low compliance rates and a severe lack of enforcement with the exception of some high-profile cases.
The EPA faces the same issue as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does: a limited enforcement staff. According to The Hill, OSHA only has the staff to inspect every workplace once every 159 years. This lack of manpower leaves agencies like OSHA and the EPA to focus on sites where an accident has occurred or that someone has directed them to with a tip about unsafe practices.
Follow Kim Slowey on Twitter