Lead paint law holds contractors to stiff safety standards

Steven Rappaport is looking for a contractor to redo the kitchen floor in his 1909 home in San Francisco's Mission District, and he wants to make sure the renovation won't expose him to any toxins that might be lurking in the paint or materials used to construct his Victorian-style abode.

"I look for the sensitivity of the contractor to see whether they seem to be aware that it's an issue," says Rappaport, who knows about the dangers of lead-based paint, having had his home inspected for lead hazards when his son was small.

For his upcoming renovation, Rappaport is relying on his best judgment by interviewing prospective flooring companies about what they'll do to contain hazardous substances, but now a new Environmental Protection Agency law will help him with his hiring decisions.

"I definitely think it's a good thing to have the regulation in place," Rappaport says. "The more people who are educated about it, the better it will be."

Is it enough?

The federal regulation — known as the Renovation, Repair and Painting Program — holds contractors responsible for following strict protocol to minimize and contain lead dust during home improvements on residences built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned in the U.S.

According to EPA estimates, some 37.8 million homes and child-occupied facilities will fall under the aegis of the new rule.

"I think it's really important people know lead dust from renovation can cause elevated blood levels in children and in others," says Maria Doa, director of the EPA's National Program Chemicals Division. "Prevention is so important. You can do that by minimizing exposure to the dust."

While some contractors and homeowners say complying with the new law will drive up costs, many hail it as a positive step toward protecting children, pregnant women and others from lead poisoning.

But lead safety advocates, contractors and public health officials say that too few homeowners and contractors know about the law and that the EPA won't be able to effectively enforce it.

The truth about lead

The law requires contractors to get certified in lead-safe work practices if their work disturbs more than 6 square feet of paint on the interior or a 20-square-foot section on the exterior of a home built before 1978. The older your home is, the more likely it contains lead-based paint, which can turn into a fine, ingestible dust if disturbed.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about lead," says Rebecca Morley, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Healthy Housing. "People think it's a problem of the past. People still believe that kids can only get lead poisoning by eating paint chips and that it's a problem with parenting and not with housing."

Health experts say anyone can be poisoned by lead, though children below the age of 6 are at particular risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates some 250,000 U.S. children between the ages of 1 and 5 suffer from lead poisoning, meaning they have more than 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. Children who have elevated blood lead levels can experience developmental and behavioral problems down the line.

Too few trained

Companies in some 50 categories on Angie's List — from remodeling to windows to flooring — could be affected by the rule. But advocates, trainers, contractors and public health officials interviewed for this story expressed concern that there were too few instructors to get all contractors trained by the April 22 deadline.

The EPA projects that 212,000 firms and 236,000 people need certification in order to comply with the law. But as of press time, only 817 firms and 13,669 contractors have done so, according to the agency. The EPA had only 133 accredited trainers, though Doa pointed out that some trainers travel out of state to host classes.

"We believe there's sufficient capacity," Doa says. She expects demand to increase as the deadline approaches. "In fact, classes are being canceled because they're not filling up." However, there were several states that had no trainers listed on the EPA's website in late February, including Rhode Island, Louisiana and Arizona. The EPA declined to comment on this point.

In order to get the word out, groups like the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and labor unions have held webinars, produced podcasts and distributed information about the rule via print and online publications. The National Center for Healthy Housing has held classes to certify trainers around the country.

"I think the hardest people to reach are going to be the handypeople — the guy who works out of the back of his truck," says Patrick MacRoy, an EPA-certified trainer with the center.

Contractors unaware

Many contractors who are already certified or plan to express concerns about others who aren't aware of the law and those who will knowingly flaunt it. Many contractors who've been certified expressed frustration that the EPA hadn't launched a marketing campaign earlier.

Karl Derr of highly rated Integrity Construction in Indianapolis practiced building a containment barrier around a wooden door frame with plastic sheeting and other lead-safe practices at a certification class in early February attended by contractors from nearby cities like Chicago and Louisville, Ky.

Derr says most of his professional colleagues are unfamiliar with the new EPA rules. "I'm telling some of my buds and they have no idea what I'm talking about," says Derr, who supports the law. "Everyone and their mother knew for a year that [analog] broadcast television was going away, but not when it's something like this."As of press time, Doa said the agency planned to ramp up its publicity as the deadline for certification approached by reaching out to contractors through magazines, radio and other media.

Dave Mallas of A-rated KD Remodeling in Lombard, Ill., hadn't heard about the EPA's program in early February. "Apparently they didn't give me the memo — I must have been out that day," says Mallas, who thinks concerns about lead are exaggerated even though he regularly works in homes that are 100 years old or older.

Mallas says the EPA rule is "good to know if we're redoing a nursery, but I'm not going to change my work habits."

Certified trainers say they're concerned that noncompliant firms will outbid them for jobs and unwitting customers won't know the difference.

They say the cost of following the guidelines — considering record-keeping requirements, time and extra materials — could add anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars to renovation jobs, depending on the size, though the EPA estimates it will add $35 per job on average.

But Bill Simone, president of the Custom Design & Construction in Los Angeles, says the EPA can't adequately project the costs because it's not out in the field, doing the work.

"To ask the EPA what this is going to cost is like going to a podiatrist for a brain tumor," Simone says. He says the extra time and materials needed to comply with the law will hurt his bottom line. "It's a business killer, plain and simple."

The details

Evanston, Ill., home inspector Kurt Mitenbuler says the requirements are straightforward, easy to implement and unlikely to add exorbitant costs.

"Any well-managed construction project would already take into account these things just for cleanliness, just so you don't have crap floating through the house, let alone lead-based crap," says Mitenbuler, who's an industry vet of 30 years and familiar with the law. "I don't view the new restrictions as being punitive."

The new law may also include an "opt-out" provision, allowing homeowners to sign an acknowledgement that would waive their contractor's obligation to use lead-safe practices if they live in the residence, no children under 6 or pregnant women live there and there are no child-occupied facilities, such as a day care, on the premises.

Homeowners living in pre-1978 homes should expect to receive a "Renovate Right" pamphlet from their contractor before they begin work. Unless they opt out, they should also see their contractor removing all furniture from the work area, creating barriers with plastic sheeting and posting warning signs.

Some 8.4 million renovation projects will be regulated by the new rule in the first year. A few states, including Wisconsin, Iowa and North Carolina, so far have adopted their own Renovation, Repair and Painting programs, which allow them to institute more stringent rules and have more local oversight. The EPA is hoping other states will voluntarily get aboard in coming months.

The EPA acknowledges its own initial efforts around the law will be focused on bringing contractors into compliance, though Doa says violators will still be punished.

"The focus will be bringing people into the fold," she says. "[But] we certainly do intend to address violations. We'll certainly deal with tips and complaints where we know there are issues."

Clearance versus cleaning verification

Many lead safety crusaders say the EPA's program is a reasonable, common-sense approach, but health experts believe it should go further by requiring a clearance test after the renovation is complete instead of cleaning verification.

Clearance testing involves collecting samples and having them analyzed at a lab for lead content while the cleaning verification involves doing a visual inspection, cleaning with a HEPA vacuum and a conducting a wipe test with dry and damp cloths.

Joseph Walseth, who works for the San Francisco Department of Health's childhood lead program, applauds EPA's rules, but doesn't feel the cleaning verification is adequate.

"If there is a dust clearance done at the end of the work, where sampling is done to make sure that there is no residual lead dust, that would be truly a comprehensive approach to the problem of lead hazards generated due to work that disturbs lead-based paint," he says.

But Shelley Bruce, who supervises the Wisconsin Division of Public Health's lead program, says cleaning verification is reasonable because renovators aren't lead abatement professionals.

"They're under the obligation with this rule to leave that house as clean, if not cleaner, than when they entered," she says. "Using the visual inspection and the cleaning pads and that protocol makes pretty sure they are leaving it no dirtier than when they arrived." She adds that the burden is on the homeowners to pursue more stringent testing.

Why it matters

Experts say anyone with concerns about lingering lead-dust hazards should consider hiring professionals licensed to conduct testing and abatement. Member Alison Stevens discovered her son Trevor had an elevated lead blood level after having some exterior painting done on her 1890 home in Arlington, Mass., last year.

After the incident, her family had their home lead tested and abated. "Lead dust hadn't even occurred to me as a source of concern," says Stevens, whose son now has a healthy lead level. She says the new EPA regulation offers peace of mind for future renovations.

"It seems like a smart place for the government to step in, especially in a place where the public is not fully educated, like we weren't."


More Like This

What to ask your contractor before starting work on lead paint removal

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Angie’s List member Steve T. of San Diego hired highly rated Paintgreen to remove lead paint from his garage. He says company owner, John Ray, “was patient and went over and beyond to make sure all work was done to the letter of the law.” (Photo courtesy of Steve T.)
Angie’s List member Steve T. of San Diego hired highly rated Paintgreen to remove lead paint from his garage. He says company owner, John Ray, “was patient and went over and beyond to make sure all work was done to the letter of the law.” (Photo courtesy of Steve T.)

You'll want to ask any contractor you hire to remove lead in your house these questions to make sure the abatement process goes well, goes safely and abides by EPA standards.

Comments

Just a few reference items concerning this law: http://content.usatoday.com/topics/post/St.+Jude+Medical/63591319.blog/1 Lead levels have already dropped significantly. This law will cause people not to remodel or do it themselves- much more dangerous. Unintended Consequences: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-02-16-motorcycleban_N.htm I guess these kids should all go sit in front of the TV and play video games. Oh someone please stop these crazy folks!

A long Story: I just sold a building for less than it originally cost in 1982. In fact it was sold at one third the appraised value. The only stipulation was that it had to be sold in three days. That means three days after the first bid. No contract just a closing in three days. Why? Good you asked! They needed to demolish it by April 22. It was completed as scheduled. All the lead paint was disposed of afterwards. I explained this to my daughter that lives in a house built in 1867. Guess what. She did renovations.... done by a licenced contractor starting in May of 2010. I questioned why he did not protect the home from lead dust. Did not need to was the answer. My grandchildren now have higher than normal lead levels. The intrusive laws just make every service more expensive. Lower the value of our real estate further. The price of Home Depot and Lowes stocks even fell. In point of fact they are useless for all of the USA population other than the legal industry. Common sense makes more sense than these ridiculous laws. If the gov't used our taxes to educate the public rather than force workers to file papers and pay dues and fines we all would be healthier.

Another source of lead for small children: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/06/on-june-9-the-environmental/ Lead levels have decreased phenomenally from 2000 t0 2005. Why don't we focus efforts on cancer prevention, drug prevention or obesity prevention not job reduction.

stephanie Is the opt out law still in effect, where a client can waive claim as long as no child is in the house and no pregnant woman? Steph, this opt out form ends July 6th. and refers to children 6 yrs of age and younger

The “Lead Police” from the City’s Environmental Services Division are apparently patrolling San Diego’s older neighborhoods; when they find any peeling paint, it is tested and if lead is found, the homeowner is ordered to remove the lead and repaint within 60 days or face fines and other legal actions. It’s a given that most older homes are owned by people on the lower end of the economic scale who simply don’t have thousands of dollars on hand for a quick home improvement project. While there is no argument that lead is poisonous--we’ve known that for several centuries and it shouldn’t have been in the paint in the first place--the mandate to immediately remove lead paint from all older homes falls disproportionally on the poor and working class. This requirement will depress the value of older homes, forcing the people who can least afford it into deeper debt, foreclosure, and ultimately out of their homes. Homeowners will have to choose between taking out a second mortgage which they cannot afford or possibly a short sale and essentially walking away after paying into a property for many years. And the final insult the city chooses to add to the injury? When the work is complete, the homeowner is required to pay another several hundred dollars for retesting. Draconian environmental laws can have repercussions that far outweigh the advantages; in this case forcing people to choose between a lead-free home and no home is not good law. If the city is going to place such stringent mandates on homeowners and require immediate compliance (60 days is barely enough to get any home improvement project underway, let alone one which requires a difficult loan qualification process) then the city should be providing financial assistance. My girlfriend and I are currently experiencing this firsthand. Finding a qualified contractor has been an absolute nightmare; we are badgered by the city officials at least weekly and no matter how hard we try to comply, the rules seem to change daily. It has been a very emotionally trying experience. Now we are discovering that it is going to be even more difficult to find a disposal firm who can remove the debris. So be forewarned: If you have an older home and the paint is in anything less than pristine condition, get your house painted before you get caught. If you have to do it under orders from the city, your project will be monitored every step of the way and it will cost many times more than an ordinary repaint.

BTW Who here has brain damage,high blood pressure, low sperm count except for me?? I blame my father for this, not lead paint.. The lead safe class I attended, they passed around a vial containing lead paint dust, enuf to contaminate a 1500 Sq Ft house. Visually, there was nothing in the vial, I think it was empty!! Even so.. if there was a speck of dust, there is NO possible way of containing such a minute amount. SO, if your house was built b4 1978, and it has lead paint, its already contaminated, way b4 ne contractor steps foot inside.

I made an offer on a home built in 1979. The Inspector I hired to do the inspection on 6-19, has indicated I do not need to have the house tested for lead because it was built after 1978. Is he correct?

This law isn't only caused by big govt. It is also started by big construction firms. They go to their senators and reps. and start these laws to be voted on. That is why small business is going out of business. Do you know how many certifications, city, state and county licenses a plumber has to have to be legal and just do his business? This isn't counting the special permits and inspections that have to be paid for and passed on to the customer. The small business man can't pay for all of this but the big companies can. So the little guy can either go out of business or just do small jobs that don't have to be inspected. It sometimes takes half a day just to get an inspection off on a small jog. A one horse company can't afford this but the big concerns can.

It is unfortunately the wave of the future. The "Greenies" all want us to live like drones in condominiums that all look alike with no character what so ever (unless you call different colors of corrugated metal character) so that we can walk to work. I have studied LEED and Green Practices and read books on this- it truly is the goal of the movement. If you live in Seattle. just look at the massive number of character homes that have been wiped out to build ugly condos and apartments (Ballard and Downtown Seattle ,Rainer). In downtown Seattle the McGuire building was built so poorly in 2001 that it has to be torn down after NINE years (the cabling for pre-stressing the concrete sounds like it wasn't done properly according to the newspaper). If it is your choice to live in a cheaply built, but expensive condominium- then do it. But don't tear down homes and buildings with character to do so. My 1911 home is built like a fortress (back when wood was dense and beams were huge and ran the entire length of the structure). My house passed the lead test with flying colors, too! We still had our workers double tent the area and wear respirators as a precaution. To make this a regulation just makes more homeowners attempt jobs they have no business doing- like taking out load barring walls. Please keep your change!

This law has almost put me out of work, I cant even bid $50 to cover cost, I've had to turn down jobs to stay legal, the work still gets done, but they hire illegal. If our government wants to help, start first with cigarettes , 1 out of every 5 deaths are related to smoking, second hand smoke. It also kills Kids!!!! Drinking, look at the deaths and car wrecks that kill, I dont know anyone that has died from lead, but lots from cancer and drinking linked deaths. the problem us small contractors dont have the money to payoff the government,

Julie, The risks are concentrated in a small group of the population that are also vulnerable to other risk factors. It is people like you that scare me to death. Get your facts straight before you speak.

This is a regulation that is way overdue. Let's not forget why this was put into place. Children and adult workers have been lead poisoned and suffered long term health effects from unsafe work practices for way too long. Change is hard but it can be done. Changing the standard of practice when working on older building is simply the right thing to do and well worth the cost.

"Amber I just had the lead clearance test done after some work was done and it cost me over 500 dollars! We are a couple just starting out and we dont have that kind of money to be getting tests like this done every time we want to work on our home that was built in 1930." 4/26/2010 11:29:46 PM As with purchasing an older home, there will always be something to fix. I don't understand why so many are "up in arms" over this; when you look at an older home for rental purposes or personal usage, you are aware of the risks. If it is something that no one is interested in, then buy new. Same rule applies with the purchase of a vehicle. You are aware that it may nickel and dime you to death; if one doesn't want the headache, then purchase new. Now back to the housing. For the folks that have pre 1978 housing; if you don't want to pay the costs of how to properly handle lead based paint, sell the property. Allow it to become another persons problem. If that doesn't settle well with you, then you should have done your homework before the purchase. Personally speaking, before I make a large purchase, I research every little detail so that I may make an informed decision. If one chooses not to conduct their business or personal affairs in such a manner, then that is your problem and you are consequently stuck.

Post 1980 homes have their own set of hazards, such as EFIS,ventilation problems, "Chinese" drywall (which is so much more of a health concern than lead based paint) and siding problems just to name a few. Kids also get lead from the water in drinking fountains and other lead based pipes and from childrens' toys painted with lead based paint in the last few years (much more dangerous because toddlers put them in their mouths). Old homes have been a constant factor. The real danger is homeowners being forced to do their own work because of the increased cost and the hysteria of people's reactions.

So you wanted change? You GOT IT.You think BP will get fined for dumping 1 million gallons of oil a day in the gulf? Think about it...BIG BROTHER TAKING OVER...GOOD LUCK

I have not seen anything about work performed by the homeowner. I do think that this has been a long time coming. We are closing on a 1955 home this month and were planning on starting a family. I was not aware of the lead paint issue until the disclosure paperwork. What you are all missing: Is this is an attempt to stimulate the new home building business? It will also stimulate the demolition industry. These old homes will be destroyed and new energy efficient homes will be built in their place. Resulting in less energy, cleaner environment, and new jobs for illegal workers.

Dan, This law was passed under the Clinton admin. in truth it is just another way for liberals to make bigger gov. now there telling you what you can do in or to your own home sounds more like communism to me. i have been in construction and remodeling homes for over 15 years and i am about to get my lead paint certification ($190) then i have to certify my company ($300) and if the guidelines are as bad as i have been informed of not only will it drive up the cost of jobs but the thought of a $35,000 fine per day for missing one of there many rules is just to big of a risk to take

This EPA law is ridiculous. They might as well start tearing down all the pre 1980 homes and start rebuilding them. Oh wait, better use thousands of square feet of plastic to cover that mess and buy everyone hazard suits. This is getting way out of hand. As an electrician who works in pre 1980 houses all the time this will raise my costs from reasonable to outrageous. Just to install an outlet in an older home now it will cost the homeowner about $50 more! That's insane! And better yet, since hardly anyone knows about this, I've already lost jobs to other contractors that aren't doing the classes for EPA. Our government needs to focus on fixing themselves, not their citizens.

Is the opt out law still in effect, where a client can waive claim as long as no child is in the house and no pregnant woman? This will price us out of business. Just one vac system is around $3000 and we need at least two to make a large job move at a slow pace.

Someone forgot to include landlords in ths mess. We must also attend this $150 class and register as a firm. Must also give out pamphlets and have renter sign that they received the lead notice and pamphlet. I must also register as a firm and pay $300 for this. WHY???? I am retired Military and did not fight for this. I fought for FREEDOM. WE need to start a writing campaign to out representatives to get this changed. By the way inflation has increased the fine to $37,500 per day per incident.

Hi Eric, Please contact Kachina Lead Paint Solutions for all your training & supplies needs. 1888-800-5224

I am a contractor who just learned of this today, so does anyone know the rule for window installations in Illinois?

This law may have been on the books prior to this congress and administration however to continue with it in our current economy is despicable. It will only drive people under the table.

kathy- this legislation was on the books prior to this administration. it is now going into effect. blame the guys that came before the current leaders.

I am glad that the EPA is getting tough about this, for this is a matter that hits close to home for my family. My husband and I have been renting an apartment for 3 years, in a building that was constructed in 1900. When we received our lease, the lead disclosure was crossed out which raised a flag for us. I spoke with my childrens pediatrician who immediately sent our son for testing; his levels came back within a normal range. My son is now almost 3 and is developmentally behind and has been receiving early intervention services for almost 2 years. I took my children back this past Tuesday to be retested; today the doctor called to make us aware that my son's levels are "through the roof" and my daughters is elevated also. Plus, we've been having black mold problems that we've expressed to our landlord who tried to blame us for the problem. He had a friend come up to do mold remediation, who then proceeded to use an electric sander on more than 6 square feet of interior space, with my kids in the same room! I have been in contact with the EPA and our local State Health Dept. Now my son may be hindered for the rest of his life all for the ignorance of one person.

I believe that this is a huge mistake! Anyone born before 1978 (and many younger people who grew up in old homes) grew up in homes with lead based paint and didn't have brain damage as a result. What about lead pipes? I do think that you should not eat vegetables grown within 10 feet of any home because of paint scraping. You also must take precautions against airborne dust from sanding. Shame on this administration!!! Way to kick an industry when it is down.

george you are right on. The government would rather have one large company responsible for 100 tradesmen, than 100 independent contractors to chase down at tax time. I have heard that Sam is deliberately making life complicated for smaller businesses for this reason. We all control the dust generated on our jobs using our own common sense and the common sense of the homeowner. I guess now the government is in charge of regulating common sense!

I had some forethought in this area and took the lead course in 2007. I am a floor covering contractor. I try and stay up to date on regs. The last 2 1/2 years have been very hard to say the least. Now that this EPA regulation is in place I thought that I was in good shape. I was informed I need a refresher course. It was $140 in NY. I signed up and took the course. What a JOKE. The book was the same exact one as in 2007. I believe in being lead safe but the regs are used to bilk money from us contractors and make more jobs for the government employees. This as with too many gov regs is just a money scheme. I think the gov is trying to push out the small business people in this country so the conglomerates and big box stores will control everything.

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