The Environmental Protection Agency is accusing one of New Hampshire’s most prominent real estate developers of breaking two federal lead paint laws. It’s the latest in a string of public health complaints against Brady Sullivan Properties.
The EPA wants Brady Sullivan Properties to pay close to $140,000 in fines.
"This is sort of the culmination of months of investigative work where we’ve identified violations that occurred at the building up in Manchester," says Sharon Hayes is a lead regulator with EPA’s northeast office.
The EPA's action on Thursday is only the latest problem for Mill West and Brady Sullivan Properties. The Department of Environmental Services says Brady Sullivan broke several state laws when it dumped Mill West soil contaminated with volatile organic compounds at a gravel pit in Londonderry. Mill West also has continuing problems with air quality due to volatile organic compounds. And last fall the EPA received a tip that Brady Sullivan and a subcontractor illegally transported lead and asbestos from Mill West and dumped it at another property in Lawrence, Mass.
This latest action from the EPA looks at just one small component of the company's ongoing problems.
Lead laws broken
In May 2015, Brady Sullivan hired a contractor to do work at Mill West – a cotton mill turned into luxury apartments in Manchester. That contractor sandblasted lead paint off the walls, exposing tenants in dozens of apartments to toxic dust. At the time Brady Sullivan denied there was a problem in the apartments, but tenants complained.
"So that’s really what got us involved initially back last spring," says Hayes.
The EPA ordered Brady Sullivan to clean up the mess, but then the agency started digging deeper.
Landlords are required to tell tenants about possible lead hazards before those tenants move in. Potential lead hazards are supposed to be written for tenants to clearly understand – and that’s because lead is a powerful neurotoxin, especially for kids.
Turns out, according to Sharon Hayes at the EPA, Brady Sullivan hadn’t informed 14 tenants at Mill West that lead hazards like chipping paint existed within the building.
"And so through our investigation we also found violations of that federal rule," says Hayes.
"Sorry and embarrassed"
In a written statement, a spokesperson for Brady Sullivan says the company is, quote, “extremely sorry and embarrassed.”
"Brady Sullivan is extremely sorry and embarrassed that the events occurred which lead up to the action announced by the EPA today," the statement reads. "We are very thankful that no one suffered lead poisoning in connection with the event. The Company regrets that it chose the wrong sandblasting contractor to conduct the work that created the problem and has ceased doing business with that contractor. Brady Sullivan spared no expense and acted as quickly as possible to mitigate the problem as soon as notified of the situation. We regret the impact to anyone affected by the event."
NHPR previously reported that at the time of the lead exposure in 2015, Brady Sullivan downplayed the health risk to its tenants and delayed informing them about its severity.
EPA wants the sandblasting company, Environmental Compliance Specialists, Inc., to pay $150,000 in fines also. Brady Sullivan also says at the time it believed it did disclose lead hazards to tenants – something the EPA says isn’t true.
"It’s too little, and it’s certainly too late, and there is no closure yet," says Kurt Milligan, a former tenant at Mill West and the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit against his former landlord.
He says Brady Sullivan hasn’t agreed to pay any fines yet, and he questions why the EPA hasn’t done more to step new tenants from entering that building.
"I’m really disappointed that they’re able to continue to have people in that building when there is still clear and present danger for folks living there," says Milligan.
Brady Sullivan continues to build new apartments at Mill West. The company has 30 days to respond to the complaint issued by EPA on Thursday.