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

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. 

NAHB: Top 12 Accomplishments Summer 2012, Number 1; Lead Paint

As a member of the HBA of Greenville, you also are a member of the National Association of Home Builders. NAHB’s 3,000 directors and 250 staff have been working hard on your behalf this Spring. In the series we will publish over the next 12 days we will highlight the Top 12 accomplishments during the Spring of 2012.

Accomplishment 1: Introduction of Lead Paint Legislation in the House

Responding to concerns expressed by NAHB Remodelers members and others during our Capitol Hill visits at the Spring Legislative Conference and on many other occasions, Reps. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and a bipartisan group of original cosponsors introduced legislation to make much-needed improvements to the EPA’s Lead: Repair, Renovation and Painting (LRRP) rule.

H.R. 5911, the Lead Exposure Reduction Amendments Act of 2012, is similar to NAHB-backed legislation (S. 2148) that was unveiled earlier this year in the Senate to help home owners and remodelers better comply with the costly work practices and recordkeeping requirements of the lead paint rule without compromising safety standards. This bill would provide families with greater flexibility to decide on their own remodeling activities while assuring them that sound safeguards remain in place to protect against lead hazards. Among other improvements, the bill seeks to restore the opt-out provision for homes that are not occupied by young children or a pregnant woman – a change that NAHB estimates would save approximately $336 million per year in compliance costs. Having led the effort to get this critical legislation introduced in the House, NAHB subsequently carried out intense lobbying and a federation-wide letter-writing campaign to secure additional cosponsors. We continue to build bipartisan support to bring it to fruition in the House and Senate. 

Federal court rules against NAHB, others on challenge to Lead Paint Rule

In November NAHB, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, the Window & Door Manufacturers Association, and the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to remove an opt out provision from its controversial Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule.

They argued that EPA violated procedures contained in Federal law governing how it adopts its regulations.  The court found that EPA did not violate the law in adopting the Lead Paint Rule.

However, legislation is now pending in the U.S. Congress to amend the Lead Paint Rule legislatively to, among other things, require an opt out provision.