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 Prosecutors Sue Home Depot for Air Quality Violations

June 3, 2011

On June 2, 2011, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) filed a lawsuit against The Home Depot Inc. alleging tens of thousands of air quality violations for displaying and selling coatings and paints at Southland stores that contain high levels of smog-forming ingredients. Home Depot is the largest home improvement chain in the region.

The AQMD conducted the investigation that led to the lawsuit. District attorneys for Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and the city attorney for the City of Los Angeles filed a related case on the same day alleging unfair business practices by Home Depot. The concurrently filed lawsuit alleges that Home Depot misled customers with false information about their products and in so doing sought an unfair business advantage over their competitors.

“Compliance with our paint and coating regulations is essential to this region reaching clean air goals that are protective of public health,” said Barry Wallerstein, AQMD’s executive officer. “Home Depot knowingly misled customers by selling higher polluting, non-compliant products in its stores.”

The lawsuit alleges that Home Depot sold thousands of cans of sealers, clear wood coatings, lacquers and other paints and coatings in violation of air quality regulations. AQMD inspectors checked for violations at Home Depot stores simply by checking cans on the shelf to see if their labeled volatile organic compound (VOC) content exceeded AQMD’s limits. Illegal products were found at more than two dozen stores. Products were found at stores even after Home Depot corporate management had been notified of the problem. Some of the products had been marked down for quick sale.

AQMD’s Rule 1113 prohibits the manufacture, distribution, sale or use of non-compliant coatings in the South Coast Air Basin. Under the California Health & Safety Code, violations of the regulation could subject Home Depot to penalties of up to $10,000 for each and every violation. Further, under the Business and Professions Code, Home Depot is subject to additional penalties of up to $2,500 for each act of unfair competition and $2,500 for each act of false and misleading advertising.

Paints and coatings are a major source of air pollution, responsible for 23 tons per day of VOC emissions in the Southland, an amount greater than that emitted by 1.5 million cars. VOCs combine in the atmosphere with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone, also known as summertime smog. Ozone causes a wide range of adverse health effects from worsening of asthma symptoms to increased emergency department visits and hospital admissions.

In recent years AQMD has focused inspections on home improvement retail stores to ensure that paints sold to consumers comply with air quality regulations.

AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

This page updated: June 07, 2011