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Woburn firm failed to warn about lead paint, EPA alleges

The Environmental Protection Agency has reached a settlement with a national painting company whose Woburn office allegedly violated federal regulations by not properly informing New England customers about the dangers of renovating houses that could contain lead paint.

College Pro Painters did not give the required informational pamphlets to at least 41 homeowners or tenants in four states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Maine — warning that work their employees or contractors were performing in 2008 and 2009 could create lead paint hazards, the EPA alleges.

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In the settlement reached last month, the company agreed to pay a $7,200 civil penalty and spend another $65,000 to replace or restore windows at the Harvard Hillel Children’s School in Cambridge.

As part of the settlement with the EPA, College Pro Painters did not admit or deny it had violated the lead paint regulation.

The Cambridge school was not one of the sites where College Pro allegedly violated the federal regulations, Simpson said, but companies often agree to pay for work to be done as part of their settlement.

The school owns three buildings, all built before 1965. College Pro will pay to restore or replace as many as 79 windows at the school. The work needs to be completed within about five months from the time College Pro agreed to the settlement.

College Pro Painters, which operates in 28 states and some Canadian provinces, could not be reached for comment.

‘We have very good laws on the books. . . . The laws just need to be enforced and need to be followed.’

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The EPA alleges that the company ignored the regulation that requires renovation contractors to warn property owners and tenants that their work could create dust and debris that contain lead. Children younger than 6 years old are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can damage their still-developing brains and nerves.

The regulation covers homes built before 1978, when the federal government banned lead-based paint for housing. Lead poisoning from paint is a concern in states like Massachusetts, which has one of the oldest housing stocks in the country.

College Pro didn’t inform homeowners about potential lead paint hazards in communities across Eastern Massachusetts, including Beverly, Concord, Easton, Harvard, Hyde Park, Lynn, Lynnfield, Mansfield, Medford, Milton, Newton, Peabody, Reading, Sharon, Stow, Watertown, Westford, Westwood, West Roxbury, Winchester, and Woburn, as well as Hudson, N.H., according to the EPA.

More than 30 years ago, Massachusetts began requiring owners to remove lead hazards in any home where a child under 6 lives. The state has some of the country’s best laws designed to prevent lead poisoning, according to a Cambridge lawyer, Jeffrey M. Feuer, who has often represented families in lead-poisoning cases.

“The way children get lead poisoning is not necessarily by eating lead paint,” Feuer said. “It’s by breathing in lead dust, or getting lead dust on their clothes or hands or toys or food, and putting that in their mouths.”

State law governing the work of renovators and others whose work may create lead paint dust and debris is stricter than federal regulations, Feuer said. It requires workers to take precautions to prevent lead poisoning by containing lead paint dust and debris.

“We have very good laws on the books,” Feuer said. “They’ve been on a long time. The laws just need to be enforced and need to be followed.”

During a 2009 inspection of College Pro’s Woburn offices, the EPA said, it discovered that the company didn’t have the required written acknowledgments from homeowners that they had been warned about lead paint.

In recent years, the agency has focused on enforcing the renovation regulations, said Andrea Simpson, senior enforcement counsel in the EPA’s Boston office. “Lead dust is the most common way that kids can be affected by lead paint,” she said.

David Deegan, a spokesman for the EPA, compared the regulation to rules requiring homeowners to disclose any knowledge of lead paint to buyers. “It’s basically a consumer right-to-know sort of thing,” he said.

Although College Pro Painters has franchises, the work at issue was performed by the company’s employees or contractors, Simpson said.

The required warning “provides information about how to reduce exposure to lead-based paint,” Simpson said.

“Homeowners or tenants can read it prior to any work being done, making sure to take precautions to prevent exposure,’’ she said.

“They can also make sure that work is being done in accordance with regulations.”

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.
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