The New Norm for Exterior Vertical Containment

While the industry has escaped the requirement of dust sampling and clearance, EPA’s July 15 announcement included more specific language on vertical containment requirements for exterior projects, specifically stating that vertical containment is now required for exterior renovation projects that are covered by the rule and that affect painted surfaces within 10 feet of the property line.

In such cases, vertical containment is necessary to ensure that adjacent buildings or properties are not contaminated by leaded dust or debris generated by the renovation.  EPA’s Dust Study demonstrates that leaded dust and debris from exterior renovations can be found 10 feet away from activities disturbing leaded paint, even if no prohibited or restricted practices are used.

The RRP rule further states, at 40 CFR 745.85(a)(2)(ii)(D), that, in certain situations, the renovation firm must take extra precautions in containing the work area to ensure that dust and debris from the renovation does not migrate to adjacent properties. 

EPA's decision is based on their admission that they know of no work practice, other than a system of vertical containment or equivalent extra precautions in containing the work area, that would universally and effectively prevent the migration of dust and debris from renovations performed within 10 feet of the property line to adjacent properties.  

This requirement is intended to provide flexibility for certified renovators to design effective containment systems based on the renovation activity and the work site.  Effective work area containment can span a range from simple barriers to more extensive scaffolding, depending on the size of the job and other relevant factors. Complex vertical containment systems with extensive scaffolding are often not necessary to effectively contain the dust generated by a renovation. 

In their announcement, the EPA cited an example of a simple barrier system on a job requiring hand scraping, within a few feet of the ground and within a few feet of the property line. They described a system that included laying plastic or other impermeable material on the ground between the paint-disturbing activity and the property line, anchoring it to the house, and then extending the material up and over the fence at the property line.

A slightly more extensive containment approach they cited could involve the use of a triangular eave/soffit “lean-to” system.  In this system, plastic or other impermeable material could be spread out on the ground 5-10 feet out from the exterior side wall, depending upon the available space.  The same impermeable material could be attached to the eave or soffit area at the roofline, and held away from the building by an extension ladder temporarily fastened to where the wall meets the eave or soffit.  The material would then be fastened and sealed onto the ground cover.  A variation of this system would involve draping the plastic or impermeable material over a frame consisting of commercially-available tension rods or strong painter’s extension tubes. 

Continuing their speculative assessment of available vertical containment, they suggested another effective containment might also consist of plastic or other impermeable material draped from outriggers, or framework secured to the roofline, taped to the sides of the building to surround the work area, and fastened and sealed to the ground cover.

Finally, the EPA described a system that would involve a rigid box-like framework, constructed out of commercially-available tension rods or painter’s extension tubes, wrapped in impermeable sheeting and anchored to the ground cover and the sides of the building.  The EPA stated their belief that these measures, in most cases, should be sufficient to contain dust and debris where extra containment measures are needed, such as work that creates large amounts of dust or work performed within 10 feet of the property line.

The big question is how will these suggestions and the requirement for vertical containment change the cost and time for LRRP practices on the exterior of target housing. The EPA recognized that it may be costly or impracticable to deploy an elaborate vertical containment system, for example, in high-rise multi-story buildings. EPA admitted it did not wish to create hazardous situations for workers that would outweigh the benefit of capturing the dust with scaffolding-based vertical containment systems.  But EPA stopped short of admitting they really didn't have the best answers.

To open the door for other solutions, EPA added language indicating that “equivalent extra precautions in containing the work area” will also satisfy the requirement to contain dust on the worksite of exterior renovations performed within 10 feet of the property line.

In addition to cost and time, exterior vertical containment raises the issue of windy and other inclement conditions that will make vertical containment problematic. That's a needed consideration that EPA addressed in the July 15 ruling admitting that until other solutions are found, the containment may need to be taken down until the weather improves. Wait for better weather? Hmmm.

In fairness, EPA did offer a few options to the vertical containment provisions such as the Department of Energy (DOE) suggestion that an equivalent containment system could involve the use of a trough-like system beneath the paint-disturbing work.  The trough would consist of polyethylene and tubing fabricated in a U-shape configuration, extending 1 to 2 feet from the exterior side of the building. According to DOE, the bottom of the trough could be weighted down with scrap lumber and sprayed with water enabling it to capture the falling dust and debris.  DOE suggested that this trough, especially if combined with dust minimization techniques such as wet methods, the use of dust-capturing shrouds, and HEPA vacuums, would be equally effective at containing dust and debris as vertical containment. 

The bottom line is that other methods are needed and being sought, and that EPA intends to work collaboratively with DOE and HUD and other agencies and stakeholders as appropriate to develop further guidance on equivalent extra precautions in containing the work area.          

Lastly, there are the issue of obstacles preventing use of required plastic, etc., and EPA suggests that contractors and renovators, or other stakeholders, who have questions on the work area containment requirements or any other aspect of the RRP rule to consult the Frequent Question database accessible from EPA’s primary lead web page at or contact the National Lead Information Center by calling 1(800) 424–LEAD [5323].  Hearing- or speech-impaired persons may reach the National Lead Information Center through TTY by calling the toll-free Federal Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339.