Washington, D.C. Resident Sentenced for Violating the Toxic Substances Control Act
(Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020) A Washington, D.C. man was sentenced yesterday to 60 days’ incarceration, two years of supervised release, a $50,000 fine and 300 hours of community service for violating the Toxic Substances Control Act in the course of renovating a Washington, D.C., property without following lead-safe work practices and lead disclosure requirements.
Mohammad Sikder, 60, had previously pled guilty to these offenses on June 20, 2019, before the Honorable Amy Berman Jackson. Sikder’s solely held company, District Properties LLC, also pled guilty to making false statements, at Sikder’s direction, in 25 building permit applications to the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). These applications understated the age of the homes being renovated, with the intent to avoid regulatory scrutiny of inadequate lead-based paint safety measures at those properties. Judge Jackson sentenced District Properties LLC to a $150,000 fine and two years’ probation with special condition of funding 3 lead-paint awareness seminars for real estate developers and contractors.
“Skirting laws that govern the use of toxic substances puts the public’s health at risk, and doing so will get you investigated and prosecuted,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Lead-safe work practices and disclosure requirements provide essential protections from lead exposure, and this case shows that business owners and individuals who violate them will get jail time and pay a substantial penalty.”
“The defendant is being held accountable for providing false information on the permit application concerning the age of the building and using untrained workers to remove lead paint from the property,” said Jennifer Lynn, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in the District of Columbia. “Today’s sentencing sends a clear signal that EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to enforcing environmental laws that protect the health and safety of our communities.”
In 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) launched the Trump Administration’s Federal Lead Action Plan to Reduce Childhood Lead Exposures and Associated Health Impacts. EPA and the Justice Department are working together to investigate and prosecute those who violate lead-safe work practices and lead disclosure requirements under TSCA.
Lead poisoning continues to be a major environmental health problem in the United States, although it is completely preventable. The most common source of childhood lead poisoning is lead-based paint in older homes, and the primary exposure pathway is ingestion of lead-contaminated dust. Lead is a toxic substance that can cause permanent damage, and is regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Under the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule), contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, childcare facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.
According to a statement of offense filed along with the plea agreements, Sikder and District Properties LLC purchased and renovated a property in Washington, D.C., without following the requirements of the RRP Rule. In 2014, the company submitted a building permit application to DCRA for addition, alteration, and repair of the property. At Sikder’s instruction, the employee submitting the permit application, under the section of the application titled “Lead Abatement,” falsely indicated that the property was built after 1978. During the summer and fall of 2014, a contractor conducted demolition at the property without following RRP Rule safe work practices. The demolition work included removing windows, removing interior and exterior painted surfaces, and removing floor and ceiling joists.
A Sept. 24, 2015, Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection revealed multiple hazards, including employees performing manual demolition on a wall surface that had paint containing lead; the lack of an employee exposure assessment to determine actual employee exposure; the lack of lead training to employees; and proper sanitation practices not being followed. Sampling analysis showed lead present on the dump truck and employees’ hands. When the property was properly remediated and sold, Sikder and District Properties LLC did not provide the purchasers with this information and with a report documenting the prior existence of lead-based paint at the property.
Between 2011 and 2017, District Properties LLC submitted 25 renovation permit applications for properties in Washington, D.C., on which the company falsely represented that the properties had been built after 1978, thereby circumventing additional permitting requirements and avoiding EPA oversight with respect to RRP Rule compliance, which would be triggered by an accurate permit application.
The investigation was handled by the EPA-Criminal Investigations Division, in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Department Environmental Crimes Unit. Trial Attorney Cassandra J. Barnum of the Environmental Crimes Section is prosecuting the case.