Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
DEP prods Home Depot to revamp environmental policies

By Don Michak
Journal Inquirer
June 14, 2006

Home Depot has agreed to change its environmental practices and pay $425,000 for numerous violations at 13 of its Connecticut stores, including an outlet in Enfield, state Department of Environmental Protection officials said today.

Under a consent order the officials said would set nationwide standards for Home Depot and other retailers, the chain agreed to pay a civil penalty of $99,000 and to contribute $326,000 to a DEP fund for special environmental programs.

Home Depot also agreed to implement and improve a system to ensure that its current and future stores comply with Connecticut's environmental rules and to hire a "third party" to audit its compliance and report the results.

Negotiations over the consent order began two years ago, and the settlement stems from violations cited since 2001 at Home Depot outlets in Enfield, Berlin, Danbury, Derby, Fairfield, Lisbon, Middletown, New Hartford, North Haven, Norwalk, Southington, Waterbury, and West Hartford.

The violations involved the display, handling, and disposal of products such as pesticides and fertilizers that contain hazardous materials.

The company was also cited on a statewide basis for failing to comply with hazardous waste, pesticide, and stormwater management programs.

DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy said the settlement reminds retailers that "you can not break the law."

Curt Johnson, a lawyer for the New Haven-based Connecticut Fund for the Environment, in a statement issued by the DEP called the action against Home Depot "a shot across the bow for all major retailers in the state."

"Torn bags of pesticides and fertilizers unnecessarily expose our children to dangerous chemicals," he said. "And when left exposed to the torrential rains we have experienced this spring, the exposed chemicals end up polluting our rivers, streams, and lakes."

DEP officials said that Home Depot has agreed to take a variety of steps at all of its stores in the country. They include:

* Improved outdoor display and storage of various chemicals and products such as pesticides, fertilizers, swimming pool additives, bags of concrete, deicing materials, and pressure-treated wood.

* Improved indoor displays to prevent shopping carts and handtrucks from breaking open packages of products that contain hazardous materials.

* More training for workers on the proper handling and disposal of such products.

* New procedures, such as patches for broken bags, to prevent the unnecessary disposal of products.

* Retrofitting existing stores and improved design of future stores to accommodate the environmentally safe management of products and hazardous materials.

DEP officials said the payment Home Depot has agreed to make to its special fund will help pay for increased outreach and education on environmental regulations and "best" business practices for retailers who sell lawn care, swimming pool, and other products.

The money also would go for training members of planning, zoning, and inland-wetland agencies and other municipal officials on managing growth and development and for new outreach materials on organic lawn care for municipalities.

Home Depot's agreement with the DEP marks the second time in as many months that the chain has been forced to pay the state because of questionable practices.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and consumer protection Commissioner Edwin R. Rodriguez announced in April that Home Depot and its banking partner, GE Capital, had agreed to pay $350,000 to the state and $322,000 to at least 8,000 Connecticut consumers for credit-card payment practices that unfairly increased their interest costs.

Home Depot also was one of several firms targeted recently by state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, sole fiduciary officer of the state employees pension fund, in a bid to restrain excessive executive compensation packages.

Voting with other institutional investors, Nappier sought to dump certain members of the firm's board of directors who decide how much to pay top executives.

©Journal Inquirer 2006