The Environmental Protection Agency's new rule on lead-safe
practices for home renovations takes effect on April 22.
Coastal cities, especially in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic
states, are full of the pre-1978 homes that the new rule
covers. And by all reports, remodeling contractors in the
region — and indeed, throughout the United States
— are far from ready.
An EPA website explains the requirements, starting with
certification: "Understand that after April 22, 2010, federal
law will require you to be certified and to use lead-safe work
practices. To become certified, renovation contractors must
submit an application and fee payment to EPA." To obtain
certification, contractors — and, depending on the
circumstances, their supervisors and even their field employees
— have to take an 8-hour EPA class involving classroom
instruction as well as hands-on training.
Remodeler Bob Hanbury, of Newington, Connecticut-based
"House of Hanbury," is slated to present a talk to builders and
remodelers about the new rule at the
JLC LIVE Residential
Construction Show in Providence, Rhode Island (March 24 - 27).
Says Hanbury, "This is the first major federal regulation that
has ever really impacted remodelers. And in the northeast, 65%
to 70% of the housing stock is pre-1978. That doesn't mean that
it will all test out as having lead paint in it and requiring
the safe work practices, but a good percentage of the jobs
Hanbury says the EPA is radically underestimating the cost
to contractors of complying with the new rule. "The EPA says it
will cost $39 a job to comply," he says, "but I think just the
paperwork will cost $100 a job — filing it, checking
it off, certifying it, keeping records, keeping the wipe
samples and pictures of all that you've done."
And the paperwork could be far more important than many
contractors realize, says Hanbury — because it could
be a key part of defending yourself against a potential
lawsuit. That danger is a bigger threat than EPA enforcement of
the rule, he argues: "The real risk of this is that your client
suddenly thinks their kid has been poisoned, and you really
need to prove that you have complied absolutely, completely,
and thoroughly with the rule, or your liability is clear. They
have set up a new duty of care and a new standard of care for
everybody in the remodeling industry now. So if you don't have
your paperwork in order, even a beginning baby lawyer could eat
But as remodeling consultant
McCadden points out, EPA enforcement is also likely to
focus on paperwork. McCadden is scheduled to teach a day-long
pre-show session for builders at JLC LIVE titled "The Game Has
Changed — It's Not Business as Usual." While
McCadden's focus won't be the lead rule, he says "it will be
sprinkled into it — because the lead rules are one
part of the game that has changed." McCadden's web page of
lead-related resources is here.
McCadden says, "A lot of guys, particularly the hands-on
guys that are running a business and working at the same time,
are probably under the false understanding that it's really
just about the work practices, and how you need to do the work
differently now. And that is certainly a piece of it, but it's
really the insignificant piece for those people. That's
probably the easiest thing to take care of in their businesses,
making those changes. Of bigger concern, I suggest, is probably
the compliance -- the paperwork and documentation."
The EPA has very little money for enforcement, McCadden
says. "Most people doing this work are thinking that the EPA is
going to show up and inspect them on a jobsite, just like OSHA
might. And that certainly can happen, but more likely is that
an EPA person is going to go down to the building department,
look at permits, cross-reference the address of the house
against their database to see when the home was built, and then
go and find that contractor — and then say all right,
for these 14 jobs that you have done in the past nine months,
we would like to see all your compliance paperwork. And just
because the EPA didn't show up at your job, just because you
didn't put your sign out or even if you didn't get a permit,
that doesn't mean you're hiding from them. According to the
rules, the EPA has the right to look at your records, and they
can get a subpoena to require you to let them look at your
The rule provides maximum fines of $32,500 per day per
violation — and multiple paperwork errors are
considered to be multiple violations, even on a single job.
With only limited funds for enforcement, says Bob Hanbury, the
EPA may decide to make examples out of a few high-profile
remodelers — as they have done with existing rules
that require nothing more of contractors than to hand out
informational pamphlets to building residents.
The basic requirement of the rule is to have workers, or at
least their supervisors, take the EPA certification course. How
is that coming? At his last meeting with the EPA, Bob Hanbury
says, "They said they think they need at least 220,000
certified renovators before the rule takes effect on April 22.
And right now, as of two weeks ago, they have 6700."