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Uh-oh, y’all: EPA’s action against ‘Fixer Upper’ stresses importance of lead paint rules

Sara Chamberlain Max McCombs June 11, 2018

Even celebrities are not immune to the pitfalls posed by the EPA’s rules on handling lead-based paint in renovation projects. On June 5, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it had reached a settlement with Magnolia Waco Properties, LLC (d/b/a Magnolia Homes), the Waco, Texas-based home renovation powerhouse and lifestyle brand led by Chip and Joanna Gaines. 

Magnolia Homes, the subject of HGTV’s popular show “Fixer Upper,” is well known for its dramatic renovations of historic homes in Waco. Apparently, EPA is not a fan of shiplap. After viewing video footage of Magnolia Homes’ renovations from the show, EPA raised concerns with the company’s adherence to the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule), 40 CFR § 745.80, et seq.

The purpose of the RRP Rule, part of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), is to ensure that home renovations do not expose residents to dangerous levels of lead from lead-based paint often used in homes built before 1978. The rule requires firms performing renovations in older homes (pre-1978) to take certain precautions — including the use of lead-safe work practices — to reduce potential exposure to lead, unless the firm can demonstrate through testing that the building components do not contain lead in excess of regulated concentrations.

In its November 29, 2017, Complaint, EPA alleged that Magnolia Homes failed to implement lead-safe work practices required by the RRP Rule (e.g., closing doors and windows to interior work areas or covering floors, ducts and other openings with plastic sheeting), obtain EPA lead certification or use lead-certified personnel, provide information to homeowners about lead-based paint hazards, and post warning signs in work areas. EPA alleged violations related to the company’s renovations of 33 properties.

Magnolia Homes did fully cooperate with EPA and took immediate action to remedy its alleged noncompliance with the RRP Rule. Such cooperation likely assisted Magnolia Homes in negotiating a reduction of the penalty proposed by EPA from $556,000 to $200,000. As part of the settlement reached with EPA, Magnolia Homes agreed to pay a civil penalty of $40,000 and spend at least $160,000 in performing a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP). The approved SEP requires Magnolia Homes to perform lead abatement work in low-income areas of North Waco, Texas. 

In addition to the civil penalty and SEP, Magnolia Homes also agreed to post its lead certificate (or an EPA-approved message) to its website, produce a video about renovations involving lead-based paint and the requirements of the RRP rule, and dedicate portions of a “Fixer Upper” episode to lead-based renovation safety. Magnolia Homes also agreed to complete certain recordkeeping requirements and periodically report compliance to EPA. 

This settlement demonstrates the importance of reviewing environmental regulations before beginning work on historic properties, as well as the significant repercussions for failing to do so. Additional information about EPA’s RRP rule and program can be found on the EPA’s lead website.

If you have questions regarding this article or the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule discussed herein, please contact Sara Chamberlain or Max McCombs in Thompson Coburn’s environmental practice area.