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07.29.2010
EPA Meddles With Lead Paint Regulations
Contractors fume over new rules and shifting policies that have them scrambling to clean up sites and meet deadlines
Now, even if no children are around, contractors will be required to abate all lead paint.
 
Follow all signs—and regulations—as directed.

Building contractors had a weight lifted from their shoulders last month as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would delay enforcement of new Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) training regulations that went into effect on April 22. But then in July, the agency announced it had eliminated an existing provision that allowed building owners and occupants of pre-1978 homes to opt out of contractor requirements if no children under age six lived there.

According to an EPA spokesperson, the agency agreed to strengthen the 2008 lead RRP rules as part of a settlement with the Sierra Club, the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, and other public petitioners who argued that visitors to older homes were also at risk. The Sierra Club estimates that about 40 percent of U.S. housing contains some leaded paint, and that lead poisoning currently affects one million children.

As a result, all contracting firms that renovate, repair, or paint homes, schools, or childcare facilities built before 1978 will be responsible for completing lead-safe work practice certification by the new enforcement deadline of October 1, 2010. Individual contractors will have until the deadline to enroll and until the end of the year to complete certification.

The EPA cites concern over availability of training courses as the reason for the enforcement delay, but building industry members believe still more time is needed and have been working with legislators to advocate a one-year delay instead. Regardless of timeline, elimination of the opt-out provision will have financial ramifications for contractors— and in turn homeowners—just beginning to recover from the recession.

“It’s a classic case of overkill,” said Rich Walker, president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing fenestration manufacturers. “It’s going to be applied to some 60 million more homes than actually need it.”

Based on a study by Architectural Testing, Inc., the cost of compliance with abatement procedures and cleanup would be $121 to $200 per building opening, far more than the EPA’s figure of less than $50 to $167 per 12-window project.

Included in both estimates is the cost of mandated lead testing kits, which contractors complain are unreliable and also in short supply. According to a study by the National Association of Home Builders, the two testing kits currently on the market resulted in up to 78 percent false positives for the presence of lead, a figure that would put contractors in danger of litigation by homeowners and require businesses to pay for additional liability coverage. (The EPA is looking for more reliable alternatives.) Fines of up to $37,000 per day for firms and individuals that don’t comply with RRP practices and recordkeeping could also increase insurance premiums.

The changing regulations might not stop with the home-building industry. As part of the litigation settlement, the EPA will issue a proposal to regulate exterior renovations in public and commercial buildings posing lead-based paint hazards by December 2011.

Jennifer K. Gorsche