According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 11 American children has high levels of lead in his or her blood. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting, or Lead RRP, rule was created to safeguard children and pregnant women from exposure to lead-based paint, which can lead to birth defects, learning disabilities and slowed growth. Contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child-care facilities, and schools built before 1978 are required to be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. Although a worthy cause, the RRP rule creates some serious financial concerns for remodelers.
Navigating the Law
Since 1996, EPA has required that remodelers of pre-1978 homes hand out the “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” pamphlet. “A few years ago, before anyone knew what was about to happen, we saw a company get fined simply for not handing out the required EPA pamphlet,” says Paul E. Toub, vice president of marketing for Elkins Park, Pa.-based Kachina Lead Paint Solutions, an accredited EPA trainer for certification under Section 402 of the Toxic Substances Control Act. “It was the EPA’s way of sending a message that there was more to come, thus the new law that took effect April 22.”
“The lead-paint problem was caused by careless lead-paint manufacturers, but the burden is now placed on the shoulders of contractors,” says D.S. Berenson, attorney and managing partner of Johanson Berenson LLP, Great Falls, Va. As Berenson sees it, EPA has created a “Byzantine maze” for contractors to navigate to follow the requirements of the law.
Although lead-safety trainers were available, demand was low until the RRP rule was instituted. Toub says: “We called it the lead-paint tsunami. Once approved as an EPA-certified trainer, our business went from zero to 60 in a split second. What was driving it was the government telling everyone that they needed to get trained by April 22. As we got closer to the deadline, the pitch got really fevered.”
Berenson says two options exist for navigating the RRP program: Hire a law firm to assist or visit www.NAPAC.net, which has developed state-focused pages where contractors can go to determine state laws and whether they override the federal EPA laws. Eleven states currently have their own laws; that number is expected to grow as states realize the potential revenue available to oversee their own RRP programs. As long as a state’s law is as strict as or stricter than the EPA program, it will trump the federal law. Combining certification and licensing fees from individuals and companies, as well as potential fines from those who ignore the law, Lead RRP promises a strong revenue stream.
According to Toub, most state laws are similar to federal laws but may be a bit more lenient with fines. He notes: “Some states don’t allow you to test for lead paint. Wisconsin and California, for example, say you can’t test for lead paint—you must assume the painted surface is lead if the property was built prior to 1978. No matter what, you need to use lead-safe work practices.”
Although the RRP program is a burden for contractors, there’s no escaping it. On the positive side, EPA certification and safe-work practices can serve as powerful marketing tools. Highlighting EPA certification on business cards, signage and advertisements can give contractors an edge over those who skirt the law.
“Contractors have not been happy about the requirements; however, most contractors who have gone through the course do see the value in it,” says Ben Myers, administrator of installer certification for Architectural Testing Inc., York, Pa.