Counter Point: To Test or Not to Test

Peter Lawton, president of South Berwick, Maine-based leadSMART Training Solutions Inc. wrote an article, "Stop the Insanity" for the February Issue of our sister publication Qualified Remodeler.  In the article his contention was that the best solution to the testing dilemma is not to test at all. He cites four reasons not to test: 1.    Lower your costs. 2.    A cleaner job site 3.    A safer job site 4.    A cleaner you that protects your family. He left out the usual reason contractors use to justify not testing: you avoid notifying your customer about lead in their home – a potentially financially damaging piece of information. The article makes for interesting reading and offers a tempting approach. But it is flawed for a host of reasons; the most significant being EPA basically won’t let you. Consider: 1. You have to hand out the RR brochure regardless. Your customer sees you doing the RRP, so they have "constructive knowledge" of lead and must share this knowledge with potential buyers.  Look at the required form most states use. 2. RRP requires documentation be given to homeowner and kept on file. If you’re doing RRP, you must give them the records, or you violate the rule. You get fined for that. If you’re not keeping records, then you're not doing RRP, which is illegal. 3. RRP requires you do clearance testing or verification. If you’re not testing why do clearance? If you don’t do clearance, it’s not true RRP and if the house had lead, you’re in trouble. 4. What about OSHA, and your employees? You owe your employees consideration. If there is lead and you don’t test, how do you know if you’re over their personal exposure level (PEL)? If you are, and don’t know it, OSHA fines are more severe than EPA. Perhaps the biggest reason to test is that there aren’t as many homes with LBP as you might think, and if you are doing interior work, there’s even a better chance there is no lead. Window jobs, for example, carry LBP most often, but that’s because LBP was used on the exterior surfaces and carried over onto the interior surfaces – mostly because of the weather resistance LBP offered when first used. But if no windows or doors are involved in your work, the chances of finding lead are less than 20%. In their book: "Lead poisoning: exposure, abatement, regulation", Joseph J. Breen, and Cindy R. Stroup, of the American Chemical Society. Division of Environmental Chemistry quote the following statistics regarding the prevalence of lead in homes built before 1950 when LBP was used the most: Interior Only -14% Exterior Only 23% Both – 37% It’s even less when the home was built after 1950. Then you add the homes remodeled or where they have been repainted, the figures are even more in your favor. Mark Schlager, a lead risk assessor in New Jersey and Perry Brake, and lead risk assessor in Florida both tell me that they find lead less than 20% of the time, even when they use the XRF gun. To test or not to test? The debate may continue until lead sampling clearance testing is required. Until then, if you want to save money, save your homeowner customer money, and not endanger them or your workers? Test. You might be surprised how few times you find lead and how few times you really have to do RRP.