To Test or Not to Test

Thanks for "Stop the Insanity," by Peter Lawton. I liked the information regarding the testing, but there are two contrary points I'd like to make.

First, if you don't test the site that you're preparing to do the work on, you cannot provide adequate coverage to your company from future litigation. If a homeowner makes a claim of lead contamination, you cannot prove whether the contamination was present prior to your work.

Second, when disposing of construction debris that may or may not be lead-contaminated, testing your waste to see what goes to the hazardous-waste site and what goes to the local landfill is still cheaper. It is pricey to assume all generated construction debris is contaminated and ship it to a hazardous-waste site.
Bill Cornell
Cornell Construction

What I don't understand about Peter Lawton's method is how you get around all the paperwork. As I was trained, by law, I must start by handing my customer a booklet they sign for. You know the drill after that. What about all the other forms, from testing to cleanup? Does he use them?
Daniel T. Webb
Tree To Thee Woodworking/Remodeling/Home Maintenance

As a certified renovator and firm, I agree with what Peter Lawton says—following lead-safe practices is the right way to remodel. My question is if you don't test any of the houses, where does that leave you with the EPA and the reporting and record keeping that it requires? Are you opening yourself up to problems with the EPA?
Glenn Smith
Martin Smith Construction Co.

[Author's Response]

The Lead RRP law says you must assume there is lead in homes built prior to 1978 and, therefore, follow the rules with the paperwork. The only reason you test is to prove there is no lead in the area you are working on. You don't have to test to follow the law in its entirety.

Testing for lead presence does not remove your liability to work safely. Your record keeping can prove that you followed the federal law to the letter and, therefore, could not have contributed to a poisoned child or worker. If you want to focus on civil protection, then you should not use the swab test method. You should use a third-party lead-paint inspector with an XRF gun before you begin your work and then use the dust clearance method to close out your project. These methods are more reliable than swab testing or cleaning-verification methods.

If you are working in a pre-1978-built house and you have a high chance of finding lead, then what good is testing? You already know what the results will be. If you test you must issue a report to the homeowner saying you found lead. The homeowner must disclose this when selling that home, which, in all likelihood, will lower the sale price. If you do not test and simply follow the law, there is no report to hand out regarding test results. Your client can legally say to a potential buyer, "I have never had the house tested." And you have one less record to handle, one less material cost to charge to the job, one less hour or more charged to the job's production. If you test and lead is present, you cannot remove the report on the home unless you are de-leading, which remodeling contractors are not allowed to do under RRP. Testing does not absolve you from previous conditions; once you start the job you own the condition of the work space.

Other than performing the test for lead, I am following all the other requirements just as if I did the test and it proved there was lead present. The law allows you to assume the presence of lead and follow the remainder of the items, including the paperwork.

Finally, according to RRP, all waste removed from a residential household is to be considered normal waste and disposed of according to local laws. It is only considered hazardous if it exceeds 220 pounds in a 30-day period and is from a commercial jobsite.
Peter Lawton, president
leadSMART Training Solutions Inc.

From the Web

I was pleasantly surprised at Peter Lawton's article about lead testing. I had assumed he was going to be another contractor whining about RRP and recommending that folks just put their heads in the sand, avoid testing and carry on as if there wasn't a lead problem. The more I read his perspective, the more I sighed in relief. He is a "deal with it; it is good for all of us to be healthier" kind of guy. Yahoo! Keep publishing articles like this! Eventually, the late majority and laggards (as they are called in marketing terms) will be left in the dust as the rest of their peers move into the 21st century and continue to have strong businesses.
Catherine Brooks