EPA Ramps Up Lead Paint Inspections

If you are a builder or remodeler, this information from NAHB regarding the EPA’s crackdown on lead paint is crucial for your business.

Some regional offices of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are changing the way they approach lead-safe work practice inspections, which could be a factor in the rising number of companies fined for violating EPA regulations.

EPA’s approach to lead-safe work practice inspections varies by region. Region 7 (Midwest) is the latest to employ a more targeted approach, having recently increased its focus on the St. Louis, Mo., area.

The strategy mirrors what was done during the summer of 2014 in EPA Region 1 (New England), which concentrated its efforts primarily in New Haven, Conn. EPA says the strategy led to improved compliance and awareness of the Lead-based Paint Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) regulations. Out of the 65 inspections conducted in New Haven during that period, EPA issued enforcement actions against six companies.

“After seeing what was done in Region 1, we saw an opportunity for us to not only educate the remodeler community, but also the general public to help drive demand for the remodelers who are certified to do the job the right way,” said Jamie Green, chief of the toxics and pesticides branch for Region 7.

EPA issued a press release and conducted radio interviews when the initiative kicked off last August. Since then, 26 inspections have been conducted in St. Louis to evaluate lead-safe work practices.

Inspectors also began conducting “compliance assistance visits,” reaching approximately 200 remodelers throughout the city. The visits were done at times when regulated work was not being done, so rather than carry out an inspection, the inspectors would explain the RRP regulations, deliver information packets and answer questions.

Projects that receive full inspections are identified in a variety of ways, but primarily as a result of tips and complaints submitted by the general public, as well as from EPA-lead searches of publicly available information.

Still, many are conducted on an ad-hoc basis, according to Green, who says inspectors will often drop in on a project while traveling to and from predetermined inspections.

Next month, Region 7 will launch an advertising campaign to raise awareness among St. Louis-area consumers about the risks of lead exposure.

“The ultimate goal here is to protect children’s health,” Green said. “There are a lot of remodelers out there who are doing it right, so a large piece of this is to make sure we’re reaching out to consumers about the value of hiring those certified renovators.”

Green says it’s too early to determine the impact of the new, targeted approach. However, the focus on St. Louis will continue through the end of the year, when Green will assess the initiative’s effectiveness and decide if similar measures would be worthwhile in other parts of the region.

Nationwide, the number of enforcement actions against businesses that violated the RRP regulation increased in 2015. Seventy-five companies received fines of $2,000 to more than $50,000, mostly for violating work practice standards and/or failing to obtain proper training and certification regarding lead-safe work practices.

For more information about how to comply with the RRP rule, visit nahb.org or visit the HBA of Greenville at hbaofgreenville.com.

EPA to Revisit Lead Test Kits

Here is a great gift in honor of National Home Remodeling Month: At long last – and after constant pressure from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been told to get to the bottom of the issue of faulty lead paint test kits with a series of public meetings that will start in early June.

As remodelers well know, the Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule requires them to use expensive lead-safe work practices in all homes built before 1978 unless the homes have been tested to be lead-free.

The catch: Even though the introduction of an accurate, inexpensive lead paint test kit was part of the rule when it was written in 2008, that test kit never appeared when the rule became law in 2010.

Now, the choices are to either conduct an expensive, time consuming test or instead do the work under the presumption that lead-based paint is there. And that often triggers additional compliance costs and unneeded record-keeping requirements, costing remodelers and consumers time and money.

This has resulted in textbook examples of reverse incentives all over the country. Too many home owners who did not want to pay the additional costs of working with an EPA-certified renovator chose to work with fly-by-night operators who slid under the regulatory radar – and who possibly put the home owners at risk with their work practices.

This lose-lose situation is now changing.

On April 28, NAHB co-hosted with the National Center for Healthy Housing the first in a new series of meetings with regulators to see what is working and what needs to be fixed.

Also in attendance: officials from the Small Business Administration and representatives from industry, lobbyists, local government, and volunteer organizations.

At this meeting, EPA announced plans for the June event: the opening round of ongoing conversations in response to a congressional mandate that EPA step up the pace and figure out a test kit to meet the criteria within the 2008 rule. And that congressional directive is a direct result of your Home Builders Association’s persistent – and successful – advocacy efforts.

If no solution is reached by October 1, Congress has directed EPA to revisit the test kit criteria in the 2008 rule and solicit public comment on alternatives. And if a reliable and affordable test kit is not possible, then it is back to square one for the economic analysis EPA did in advance of the rules and ensure that the costs reflect actual experience.

Learn more about the EPA Lead Paint rule at nahb.org/leadpaint.

Lead Paint Rule Marches On, but Time Still an Issue

The National Association of Home Builders recently submitted comments supporting EPA’s plan to revise the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP) to eliminate a requirement that the EPA LeadSafe Certified Renovator re-certification course have a hands-on component.

The change would allow remodelers and other contractors to re-certify online, saving time and money for individuals and firms who have been certified for years. However, contractors obtaining certification for the first time would still need to complete the hands-on portion of the training course.

Given that a large number of certified renovators must complete a refresher training course by July 1, EPA has proposed providing a six-month extension for renovator certifications that expire by that date. Extending the deadline is a good first step in mitigating the concerns regarding the timing of this proposal and help ensure that as many renovators as possible can take advantage of the savings provided by the streamlined requirements of the proposed rule.

In its comments filed Feb. 13, your Home Builders Association supported EPA’s efforts to increase affordable access to the renovator refresher training courses, and to extend the completion deadline to ensure that those renovators who came into the RRP program when it launched in 2010 have access to online-only training options.

NAHB also urged EPA to expedite consideration of the extension to provide the industry with needed certainty.

To find out when your EPA LeadSafe Certified Renovator certification expires, visit the EPA firm locator page. Learn more about the EPA lead paint rule recertification process, get additional details on the EPA lead paint rule at nahb.org/leadpaint

EPA Won’t Move Forward on Accurate Lead Paint Test Kits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that it has no plans to sponsor studies of new, more accurate kits designed to test for the presence of lead paint in homes before remodeling projects can begin.

After a group of remodelers and builders met with EPA leaders during the NAHB Spring Board of Directors meeting, the agency sent a letter to NAHB stating that it has “no plans or resources” to look for more accurate testing methods, even though test kits currently recognized by the EPA have false positive rates ranging from 22.5% to 84%.

Absent a reliable test kit, remodelers or their clients must pay for more expensive testing methods or presume the presence of lead and use lead-safe work practices during the remodeling job if the home was built before 1978. Lead-safe certified remodelers told EPA that the lack of an inexpensive kit is forcing them to lose work to uncertified and fly-by-night operators who won’t tack on the additional charges.

NAHB continues its efforts on Capitol Hill to press EPA to restore the opt-out provision, especially in the absence of a reliable test kit.

Lead paint resources for remodelers and consumers are available at nahb.org/leadpaint.

CDC moves the goal post on lead paint

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed its standard on which it bases its efforts for reducing childhood lead exposure.

Previously, the CDC used 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood as its standard for a “level of concern” for lead poisoning,  The agency replaced that standard with a focus on the 2.5 percent of the population most exposed to lead.  This change sets up a scenario in which industries like Remodeling will suffer through ever more expensive measures to mitigate a continuously decreasing risk of exposure.

Craig Webb, Editor-In-Chief of Remodeling, presents an effective argument against the CDC’s change in his “First Word” in this month’s Remodeling.  Below is Webb’s column, used with permission.

Add It Up
On the lead-paint rule, whose needs matter more?

Odd as it may seem, the debate over the lead-paint rule reminds me of the movie Saving Private Ryan. If you’ve seen the movie, no doubt you remember how director Steven Spielberg first shows in stomach-turning detail the carnage U.S. troops suffered on Normandy’s D-Day beaches and then juxtaposes that with a platoon’s search to find and safely bring home just one soldier.

Saving Private Ryan ostensibly is about the sacrifice by the many to make possible our concern for the one. The lead-paint fight echoes that notion, because at its heart lies this question: Is it worth spending millions of dollars and remodelers’ hours to protect a relatively small number of kids and pregnant women from lead exposure?

A recent letter to the editor illustrates this. In it, remodeler Mike Patterson of Gaithersburg, Md., takes issue with June’s First Word column in which I noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decided to stop using 10 micrograms of lead in a deciliter of blood as its standard for a “level of concern” and instead will focus on the most exposed 2.5% of the population, no matter how low the number may be. I likened the CDC’s decision to what manufacturers do when they implement error-reduction programs to improve their assembly lines.

The CDC says it changed its tack because it can’t say how small an amount of lead in blood is safe. The problem, Patterson correctly points out, is that the CDC’s action removes the possibility that we’ll ever be able to declare victory on this issue, while simultaneously forcing us to commit ever-greater resources for an ever-smaller gain.

“The idea that nothing is ever good enough is a pervasive one, but it’s a pernicious and expensive one as well,” Patterson writes. “Pernicious in that it never allows one to feel that something worthy has been accomplished, and expensive, as it forces us all to shave our profit margins ever thinner, in the pursuit of … what? A goal? How is that possible, when the goal posts are moved every time we approach?”

America has done amazing work combating lead exposure. In the late 1970s, studies found that an estimated 88% of children aged 1 to 5 had 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. When similar tests were conducted between 2007 and 2010, just 0.8% of the kids had the same level.

Note that this improvement came before the lead-paint rule took effect, and at a price (largely from getting lead out of gasoline) that our society could afford. Tens of millions of kids are out of danger, and now a relatively few remain.

I never liked the premise of Saving Private Ryan, and I don’t like what the CDC did here. The rule’s cost doesn’t justify the benefit.

Craig Webb is editor-in-chief of REMODELING.