According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 11 American children has high levels of lead in his or her blood. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting, or Lead RRP, rule was created to safeguard children and pregnant women from exposure to lead based paint, which can lead to birth defects, learning disabilities and slowed growth. Contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child-care facilities and schools built before 1978 are required to be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. Although a worthy cause, the RRP rule creates some serious financial concerns for remodelers.
Navigating the Law
Since 1996, EPA has required that remodelers of pre01978 homes hand out the “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” pamphlet. “A few years ago, before anyone knew what was about to happen, we saw a company get fined simply for not handing out the required EPA pamphlet,” says Paul E. Toub, vice president of marketing for Elkins Park, PA based Kachina Lead Paint Solutions, an accredited EPA trainer for certification under Section 402 of the Toxic Substances Control Act. “It was the EPA’s way of sending a message that there was more to come, thus the new law that took effect April 22.”
“The lead paint problem was caused by careless lead-paint manufacturers, but the burden is now placed on the shoulders of contractors,” says D.S. Berenson, attorney and managing partner of Johanson Berenson LLP, Great Falls, VA. As Berenson sees it, EPA has created a “Byzantine maze” for contractors to navigate to follow the requirements of the law.
Although lead-safety trainers were available, demand was low until the RRP rule was instituted. Toub says: “We called it the lead-paint tsunami. Once approved as an EPA-certified trainer, our business went from zero to 60 in a split second. What was driving it was the government telling everyone that they needed to get trained by April 22. As we got closer to the deadline, the pitch got really fevered.”
Berenson says two options exist for navigating the RRP program: Hire a law firm to assist or visit www.NAPAC.net, which has developed state-focused pages where contractors can go to determine state laws and whether they override the federal EPA laws. Eleven states currently have their own laws; that number is expected to grow as states realize the potential revenue available to oversee their own RRP programs. As long as a state’s law is as strict as or stricter than the EPA program, it will trump the federal law. Combining certification and licensing fees from individuals and companies, as well as potential fines from those who ignore the law, Lead RRP promises a strong revenue stream.
According to Toub, most state laws are similar to federal laws but may be a bit more lenient with fines. He notes: “Some states don’t allow you to test for lead paint. Wisconsin, and California, for example, say you can’t test for lead paint – you must assume the painted surface is lead if the property was built prior to 1978. No matter what, you need to use lead-safe work practices.”
Although the RRP program is a burden for contractors, there’s no escaping it. On the positive side, EPA certification and safe-work practices can serve as powerful marketing tools. Highlighting EPA certification on business cards, signage and advertisements can give contractors an edge over those who skirt the law.
“Contractors have not been happy about the requirements; however, most contractors who have gone through the course do see the value in it,” says Ben Myers, administrator of installer certification for Architectural Testing Inc., York, PA.
For some contractors, adhering to the RRP rules is cost-prohibitive. “I know of at least two contractors who have decided to get out of the business,” Myers says. Increased costs include disposable products and permanent equipment for lead-dust containment and cleaning, as well as additional man-hours required to perform the work. Contractors also must absorb the cost of EPA-accredited lead-safe work practices certification courses, as well as attorney fees to adapt contracts and job descriptions.
However, Myers believes an increased consumer awareness about the dangers of lead exposure could lead to significant business opportunities. Although many think lead only affects pregnant women and children, the U.S. Product Safety Commission says lead can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination and nerve damage in adults. “Contractors can be promoting the fact that a lot of older homes have windows with lead paint. Opening and closing of the window will create lead dust,” Myers explains.
Calli Schmidt, the National Association of Home Builders’ environmental communications director, says “We hear from members they are competing against remodelers willing to skirt the rules, but we hope more consumer awareness will help change that.”
Following the rule
To follow the RRP rule, remodelers first must have their company and someone on staff certified in lead-safe work practices. Myers recommends contacting trainers to ask questions about their area of expertise before signing on for a course. While all trainers provide the same EPA materials and curriculum, learning from someone with relevant experience may speak to a remodeler’s specific situation.
Toub notes the importance of being certified by instructors who not only know the law, but who also are able to approach the course from a contractor’s business standpoint. “This involves everything from the proper forms, business guides and protocols to ensure you have a tight paper trail in case of an audit.” The paper trail will also document the steps taken and protect the contractor in the event that homeowner health issues arise in the future. Remodelers must keep meticulous records for at least 3 years after the job is completed.
“Contractors working on a pre 1978 home need to test for lead paint before they begin work,” says Will Manning, director of marketing for ZipWall LLC, Arlington, MA. “If lead is present, the contractor would be wise to do a thorough pre-renovation dust sampling before beginning the job.”
Manning recommends checking the entire area from walls and floors, to window sills and door jambs. Although this testing will probably require sending samples to a lab for analysis, knowing the level of lead dust before beginning renovations may help protect the contractor in the future. An Internet search will provide a number of regional lead-testing laboratories that can perform testing on the dust sample. As an added precaution against any future ramifications, Manning suggests locating a state-certified lead sampling technician to visit the jobsite to conduct the testing.
“If a pre-renovation lead-dust test comes back positive and there’s a fair level of dust contamination, a contractor might suggest the homeowner have his or her kids’ blood lead levels tested,” Manning adds.
The RRP rule requires the work area to be protected by plastic sheeting and extending at least 6 feet in all directions from the location of paint disturbance. Protective plastic sheeting also must extend far enough away from the location of paint disturbance so all dust or debris generated by the work remains within the area protected by the plastic.
Vertical containment systems seal a specific area using plastic sheeting and connecting poles to essentially create a room within a room, thereby limiting the size of the area affected by the work and reducing the area that must be cleaned at the end of the job. Vertical containment systems contain and control dust and may be easier and more effective than taping up plastic sheeting.
The RRP rule dictates contractors must buy particular products to work on homes or child-occupied facilities where lead paint is present. The biggest capital investment is the HEPA vacuum, typically running from $500-900. Some manufacturers now offer retrofit kits for existing vacuums; however, according to EPA RRP guidelines, an existing vacuum cannot be retrofitted to include a HEPA filter.
“You need to buy a HEPA vacuum designed for particular matter,” says Paul Gordon, president of Golden Gate Enterprises, a Castro Valley, California based product supplier. “HEPA filters on poorly designed vacuums clog up.” In the event of a clog, the filter cannot be reused. Gordon estimates a typical contractor will use approximately one to three filters per month at a cost of $150-250 each.
“With the HEPA vacuum being one of the main tools to be purchased by RRP-compliant contractors, it is crucial the individual selects a unit that is a certified HEPA vacuum and meets the needs for the contractor in size and within budget,” says Jeff Jensen, sales manager for Atrix International Inc., Burnsville, Minn. Currently, the EPA does not certify HEPA vacuums. Instead, a manufacturer certifies that its HEPA vacuum removes at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles 0.3 micron in diameter.
EPA also provides a “shopping list” of materials needed to satisfy the RRP rule. The work-site list includes signs; barrier tape, rope or fencing; safety cones; heavy-duty plastic sheeting; masking, duct or painter’s tape; and a stapler, utility knife or scissors. The individual working on the site must be outfitted with an N-100-rated respirator; protective eye wear; a painter’s hat and disposable garments, including coveralls, latex/rubber gloves and shoe covers.
“The sleeping dragon is going to be the liability of lead contamination and lead poisoning caused by a contractor,” Gordon warns. “It may all look fine with coveralls and respirators, but if you leave a lead-contaminated job site and people get contaminated with lead, it may cost the contractor his business.”