Lead paint concerns remain three years after new regulations
Brigitte Fisch of Stoughton, Wis., says she wasn’t familiar with work practices aimed at protecting homeowners and others from the dangers associated with lead paint when she hired highly rated Thomas Lulinski Home Finishing to repaint her 1950s home, but was pleased when the company informed her about the several year-old federal requirements.
“They painted everything according to lead-safe remodeling practices, including sealing the area and laying down plastic for the debris,” she says.
More than three years after instituting new regulations affecting contractors who come into contact with lead paint, the EPA says trainers have certified hundreds of thousands of service providers, surpassing their original goal for individual certifications and approaching that for firms. However, contractors in the field say much remains to fully educate the public and enforce the rules among those working with lead paint, which poses a particular poisoning risk to children 6 and younger.
Homes harbor lead paint hazard
The federal regulations — known as the Renovation, Repair and Painting Program — hold 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. The EPA estimates 37.8 million homes and child-occupied facilities in the United States fall under the rule’s aegis.
In 2010, the EPA projected that 212,000 firms and 236,000 people would need to be certified in order to comply with the law, but at that time only, about 14,000 had done so. According to EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn, as of November 2013, EPA trainers had certified 132,000 firms and 483,000 individuals.
“The number of certified firms is less than initial estimates, but the number of certified individuals is more than double the 2010 estimate and provides consumers greater access to certified renovators when they need them,” Milbourn says.
Contractors voice concerns
Bruce Case, president of highly rated Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md., and government affairs committee chairman for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, says NARI largely supports the rule, but voices concerns about certain elements. “We believe homeowners who don’t have children under six or pregnant women residing in the house should be allowed to voluntarily opt out,” he says.
He also worries that the rules provide an opening for illicit contractors to undercut business. “There’s a huge underground economy of remodelers not following the rules, which is disconcerting for those of us who are,” he says.
The EPA estimates following proper lead procedures adds between $35 and $376 to the cost of each job. Now that this rule has been in place for a few years, Frank Najafi, owner of highly rated AARDVARK Property Hazard Analysis in Los Angeles, says the reality largely meets this expectation. “Once you’ve gotten the initial education, the only real cost added to a job is the cost of the plastic sheeting and disposal of the waste. Most of the rest of it is simply about proper work protocol.”
Case says his experience shows the EPA’s estimate to be mostly accurate on single-room projects, but higher on larger renovations. He also adds that it doesn’t take into account the upfront cost of training and equipment investment.
Knowledge spreads, but slowly
Najafi says the industry will see a few more years of adjustment before everyone becomes comfortable with the rules. “Just like other regulations pertaining to hazardous materials that have been in effect since the 1980s, we’ll see a gradual increase in successful lead project completions,” he says.
Najafi says homeowners demonstrate a greater familiarity with the dangers of lead paint since the establishment of the rule. “Homeowners are surprisingly more knowledgeable than contractors now, especially compared to three years ago,” he says. “They’re being diligent about demanding certification and asking that contractors adhere to the rule.”
However, he believes some still get inaccurate information about cost and procedures from contractors who aren’t fully versed in the rules and feels it will take a few more years before awareness becomes widespread.
Awareness varies by state
Ron Peik, owner of highly rated Alpine Environmental in Chelmsford, Mass., and president of the non-profit Lead and Environmental Hazards Association, says enforcement and education vary greatly from state to state. “Here in Massachusetts, we have pretty impressive outreach,” he says. “But in the rest of the country, it’s still pretty low. We still deal with people who, with very good intentions, wind up with lead-poisoned children after innocently moving forward with ill-advised work practices, possibly because they didn’t know to hire certified contractors or aren’t making sure they follow safe work practices.”
Milbourn says the EPA has supplemented the RRP with an extensive public awareness campaign. Peik says the shift on lead safety reminds him of the asbestos regulations rollout a few decades ago.
“It took about 10 years for asbestos compliance to really become part of construction culture, to the point that building departments and boards of health were really looking out for it and putting it on permits,” he says. “A lot will depend on cities and states stepping up to enforce this, because EPA doesn’t have the staffing to make an effective outreach on that scale.”
Peik expects lead safety to improve as contractors and homeowners become more familiar with the EPA’s program. “Like any other regulation, it’s going to be a rollout over a number of years,” Peik says. “It’s breaking new ground, and things like that just don’t happen overnight.”