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Attorney General Settles Two Claims Of Violations Of Vermont Lead Law

CONTACT: Wendy Morgan, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5507

Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced today that his office has settled two claims of violations of Vermont’s Lead Poisoning Prevention law and Consumer Fraud Act. Newport landlords Douglas and Vivian Spates will take action to reduce lead risks in their properties in the Northeast Kingdom, including spending at least $150,000 replacing windows and other friction surfaces that create lead dust, and will pay $15,000 to housing programs and the State. Painting contractors Herbert and Karen Thayer, doing business as Herb & Karen Painting, agreed to conduct their business using lead safe work practices, or run the risk of incurring a $10,000 penalty. The Attorney General claimed that the Spateses failed to follow the requirements of the law regarding maintenance of rental housing in Newport, and that the Thayers failed to follow lead-safe procedures when they prepared an older Montpelier apartment building to be painted.

“Lead harms all Vermonters, particularly young children and pregnant women,” said Attorney General Bill Sorrell. “ Many people are unaware that low levels of lead poisoning in these vulnerable groups can cause reductions in IQ and have been associated with school failure, delinquency and criminal behavior. These cases represent the State’s commitment to enforce our existing law, even while we go to the legislature to strengthen the law to protect Vermonters. We are pleased that these parties have reached an agreement with the State to ensure that they will comply with the law, and hope that other landlords and contractors will heed the warning implicit in these settlements.”

The Spateses’ settlement is contained in a Consent Decree signed by Judge Robert R. Bent of the Orleans Superior Court on October 8. According to the Consent Decree, the Spateses own rental properties in Newport and other communities in the State of Vermont, including properties that come under the Lead Poisoning law because they were built prior to 1978, when lead in residential paint was banned. Among other provisions in the agreement, the Spateses will promptly bring all their properties into compliance with the law, with primary attention on units with children under six. They will also file the required affidavits with the Department of Health and their property insurers, and will pay $5,000 to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to be used to address lead in rental housing, $5,000 to Northeast Kingdom Community Action for any purpose related to providing housing for low income people in the Northeast Kingdom, and $5,000 to the State as civil penalties.

In addition to achieving maintenance compliance, the Spateses have also agreed to expend at least $150,000 in 2007 and 2008 in eliminating or reducing exposure to lead-based paint in their rental properties built prior to 1960 by replacing windows, doors, and cabinets, and by covering walls and flooring.

“We are especially pleased that these landlords are going beyond the essential maintenance practices required by Vermont law, and are putting substantial resources into eliminating or reducing exposure to lead-based paint,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “We cannot truly protect our children unless we move to eliminate lead in our housing stock, rather than just ensuring good maintenance of our rental housing.”

The Thayer Assurance of Discontinuance was filed recently with the Washington Superior Court. According to the Assurance, the Thayers contracted to paint the exterior of a five-unit apartment building at 175 Main Street in Montpelier built in 1850. It was reported that Mr. Thayer “water-blasted” the exterior of the building, showering a neighbor’s property with paint chips, including windows and gardens, with no plastic sheeting to cover the surrounding area. On order of the city health officer, a risk assessment was undertaken, a remediation plan approved, and a cleanup of paint chips performed at a cost of over $30,000.

Vermont law requires that painting contractors working on pre-1978 rental housing follow certain procedures to minimize the risk of lead contamination and protect human health, including not burning, water blasting, dry scraping, power sanding, and sandblasting; using good work practices and safety precautions to prevent the spread of lead dust, such as limiting access to work areas and covering work areas with plastic, misting painted surfaces and wet-sweeping debris; and specialized cleaning of the work area at the conclusion of work.

Under the settlement, the Thayers have agreed to training and to follow the state standards (which are detailed at http://www.leadsafevermont.org/home.html) in renovation practices in all future projects. In the event of a violation of those practices, they could be required to pay a penalty of up to $10,000 to the State.

The Spateses Stipulation of Settlement and Consent Decree and the Thayer Assurance of Discontinuance can be found on the Attorney General’s website at www.atg.state.vt.us; click on “Lead” under Consumer Protection

  Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.