USA: Police State

What The Lead Law Means To You

from AltBuildingServices

On Thursday, April 22, 2010 the new Federal Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) law became the law of the land. Much has been written about it, and most of what has been written is pointed at industry professionals. So, what does the RRP law mean to you, our customers and property owners.

It means alot!

Are you effected?

If you own a building that was constructed prior to 1978, the law applies to you and will touch on almost everything you have done, from flooring to repainting to plumbing. Only jobs covering less than 6 SF (six square feet) on the interior and 20 SF (20 square feet) on the exterior are exempt.

Jobs that fall under RRP jurisdiction must be performed by a “registered company” and a “Certified Lead Renovator” (CLR), and you must be provided a copy of Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools (PDF), and sign for receipt of the pamphlet. (The duties of the CLR are identified in 40 CFR 745.90(b). You can read the regulation here.)

What does this mean? Well, that’s a bit gray. It seems to mean that, unless your job site has been certified to be lead free, not only must the general contractor you hire be “registered” (with the EPA) and use a “Certified Lead Renovator”, it also seems that the firms s/he subcontracts with must be registered etc.—unless they’re not disturbing lead paint or dust. So for instance, if the general contractor clears away all contaminated dry wall, s/he could then hire a non-CLR plumber to come in and re-plumb that area. But if the plumber has to remove contaminated dry wall, then the plumber too must be a CLR. The difficulty is in the wording of the language. The square foot rule seems to be a trigger for the lead safe work practices, not the requirement that the firm be registered and the workers trained.

Owners of rentals should take special notice: Not only does the CLR have to keep certain records to prove they have complied with the law, you do too. You must provide your tenants with copies of the Renovate Right (PDF) pamphlet, and have them sign for it. I personally think you should also request copies of all lead practices compliance check lists and tests performed by your contractor for your own legal protection. Reputable firms should be more than willing cooperate as it’s in their best interests too!

Also, you cannot opt out! As originally written, Congress allowed property owners to opt out of complying with the RRP by signing a sworn statement that there were no children or pregnant women living in, or visiting, the building. But last year the EPA, the Sierra Club, the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning, and others sued for stricter enforcement—and won. The EPA website says it has:

propose[ed] to expand lead-safe work practices and other protective requirements for renovation and painting work involving lead paint to cover most pre-1978 housing, and after certain renovation, repair, and painting preparation activities are performed to require renovation firms to perform quantitative dust testing to achieve dust-lead levels that comply with EPA’s regulatory standards. Renovations on the exteriors of public and commercial buildings will also be proposed to be covered and EPA will evaluate whether renovations in the interior of these buildings create lead-based paint hazards.

Whether the opt out rule is really gone or not seems to be something of a debate. However, you can get around the law by doing it yourself. Obviously the EPA highly recommends you follow the guidelines set forth in their Renovate Right (PDF) pamphlet. It is also recommended that you call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD (5323) and ask for more information on how to work safely in a home with lead-based paint. (See 40 CFR 745.82. You can read it here.)

How will RRP compliance effect my job?

Obviously, it depends. If the site of a proposed job can be certified to be lead free, then there will be no impact at all. On some jobs the impact to those using the building will be minimal. This is especially true if there is easy direct access to the job site. On other jobs, however, the impact can be pretty dramatic. The EPA recommends, and your contractor may insist that:

  • Alternative bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen arrangements be made if work is occurring in those areas of a home.
  • Occupants use a different entrance to the building than that of the contractor. In fact, the entire work area and its communication with the outside should be kept separate from rest of the building as much as possible.
  • You remove all furniture from the job site. Covering it up is likely not going to be acceptable—save perhaps for tables and other hard finished furniture with no drawers.
  • Air ducts from HVAC equipment be disconnected from the system.
  • For really invasive jobs where containment can’t be guaranteed: That you move out! (If you run a child care facility, it is highly recommended that you not only close the facility during construction, but that you implement all of the above in addition to closing.)

What’s this going to cost me?

The EPA claims all of this is only going to cost you between $8 and $167 per job. As usual, things out here in the real world look a lot different than they do inside those government cubicles. Little by little state General Contracting Associations are coming up with numbers and they’re not good. Estimates start at around $500 for a small kitchen remodel and go up to as high as 30% of the cost of a job. Which means RRP could add as much as $6,000 to a $20,000 job.

But that’s just the direct cost the contractor must add to the job. Then there are the indirect costs to you, such as: temporary lodgings, meals out, storage fees for furniture, down time to your business, and so on.

So, what do you think?

Thanks for asking. For those who don’t know: I’m a green design/builder. I’ve been around for thirty years, and I’ve spent more than my share of time in D.C. I could give tours through the underground tunnels beneath the capital.

I’ve been pretty vocal about my belief that this law is bad, bad, bad, and should be repealed. Not because it’s intent is wrong. Not because we should ignore lead paint and its related health issues, but because:

A) It probably won’t be enforced. The EPA has no funding for enforcement. It is my understanding that they are currently lobbying Congress for the necessary funding to open enforcement offices around the country. Given that the deficit is rapidly becoming the crisis de jour, I doubt they’ll get it. So in the end, responsible builders will follow the rules; the hacks will continue to be hacks and get away with it. Therefore, nothing will change; we’re no safer than we were. We’ve just spent more money and forced responsible contractors to take on more liability.

B) If the EPA does manage to get funding for enforcement it will probably make things worse rather than better. Like all Federal agencies, it’s a huge, top (management) heavy agency with no experience in construction, and no stake in local communities and their businesses. Its relationship with contractors will be adversarial, rather than solution oriented like that of the local building inspectors. (If you’ve ever had to deal with the IRS or the SSA then you know what I’m talking about.) Over time, EPA harassment can only drive up the cost of doing business and guess what: You, the customer, will be picking up the tab.

C) The States already have hazardous material mitigation and containment programs in place. Rolling a lead program into those systems would cost us (as taxpayers) almost nothing. And for that “nothing” we would have gotten a real mitigation and containment program with meaningful involvement and real enforcement through the contractors and agencies already doing that very work.

Now it’s time for you to tell me what you think. Have I forgotten something? Leave a comment and let me know. Agree? Disagree? Let me hear!