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On the market: New EPA lead-paint rule protects homeowners, costs contractors

April 24, 2010 |  6:43 am

LEAD_ICON Finding a contractor to replace those exterior windows just got a little more challenging as a new lead-safety rule went into effect with tough requirements for contractors working on homes built before 1978 and fines of up to $37,500 a day for violations. The rule kicked in Thursday, which was Earth Day.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Paint Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule applies to anyone receiving compensation or rent for remodeling work on pre-1978 buildings (homes, schools and childcare facilities with children under age 6) that disturbs 6 square feet inside the home or 20 square feet outside the building and requires that the on-site renovator be trained and certified through a one-day EPA-accredited lead-safety training course.

“If you’re not lead-safe certified, disturbing just six square feet could cost you big time,” one of the EPA’s radio and print campaigns cautions.

However, L.A.-based California Maintenance Repair Services (www.thelivehandyman.com) owner and contractor Daryl Vidal, 44, said that with the Southland’s building industry already hard hit by the recession, consumers will pay the price for the new rule.

“There are some tools you need that allow you to spread out the cost over time. But the cost is in the procedures and the labor hours to meet the requirements. So I am going to have to do a few jobs before I know the real costs,” Vidal said. “But I am probably looking at adding about $1,000 to my next job to pay for plastic suits and masks that have to be replaced every time the worker leaves the [sealed] area.”

EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said that because many contractors already follow some lead-safe practices the agency estimated the average costs of containment, cleaning, and cleaning verification range from $8 to $167 per job, with the exception of exterior jobs where vertical containment would be required.

But with lead-safe respirators costing from $35 to $100 and an industrial-rated HEPA vacuum that can pick up lead-dust particles as small as 0.5 microns (a human hair is about 100 microns wide) averaging $800, Vidal said the rule would probably put some contractors out of business.

John Gura, head trainer and president of HomeSafe Environmental Inc., a Loma Linda-based lead-based paint inspection service that offers RRP training classes, said the EPA rule is an extension of Cal/OSHA lead rules that expanded the 1979 federal employer lead standards to California’s construction industry in 1993. (The U.S. banned the use of lead paint in residences in 1978.)

“We are talking about lead-safe practices that have been around for a long time. You have to presume that places built pre-1978 have lead. This is something you are supposed to have been doing already in many cases. And if you haven’t, well, then it is time to catch up. It is to basically minimize the amount of dust you create and clean up after yourself,” Gura said.

But Vidal said the rule goes a lot further than the OSHA requirements.

“There are 500 pages. I know. I carry it in my truck,” he said. “I think it is a great idea, and I do a lot of this already. But I think the timing is off.”

With studies indicating that children living in homes where renovations occur are 30% more likely to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood than kids in homes that aren't renovated, supporters say the time is right.

Most of Europe banned the use of lead-based paint in residences by 1931, almost five decades before the United States. The EPA says nine out of 10 U.S. homes built before 1940 contain toxic lead paint.

And it’s dangerous stuff. In 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 200,000 children under age 6 will incur blood lead levels at or above the CDC’s level of concern (10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood).

Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, a nonprofit organization devoted to lead-safe housing, said more than a million children in the United States have been affected by lead poisoning since 2000.

"We are trying to make sure the job is clean and safe for the workers. And the EPA is trying to make sure the job is clean and safe for the public,” said Steve Smith, Cal/OSHA principal safety engineer.

In simple terms, the EPA rule calls for lead-dust containment (using HEPA vacuums, wearing protective clothing and disposable masks and sealing off work areas with plastic and tape), thorough clean up (wiping floors and surfaces with disposable wet and dry cleaning cloths and testing the cloths for lead residue), documentation (keeping records for each project), consumer education (giving clients a copy of the free EPA pamphlet “Renovate Right” prior to starting a project that falls within the guidelines) and completion of an EPA-accredited lead-safe work practices certification course.

Gura said his firm had trained 1,456 remodelers since November and is booked through June. Depending on the provider, the eight-hour certification courses range from $185 to $250.

Kemery said the EPA started notifying trade organizations, unions and property management associations about the new rule in September 2008 and has a print and radio advertising campaign aimed at reaching contractors, trade associations, retailers, unions and homeowners about lead-safety certification.

“I never got a letter. I heard about the rule in 2008 from a building inspector and took the certification class this February. My subcontractors didn’t know about it. So I told them they had to get certified,” Vidal noted.

"We have been trying to get the word out, but not a week goes by that I don’t meet someone who is not aware of the rule,” said Holly Schroeder, executive officer of the L.A.-Ventura County chapter of the Building Industry Assn.

Despite pushback from industry groups, Gura said, a lot of contractors have known about the new rule for a long time but waited to get certified.

"The reason people are so alarmed about it is because many contractors have just been uninformed,” Gura said.

With fines of up to $37,500 a day for violations, Schroeder said, misinformation can be costly.

“This doesn’t just affect someone doing a major house remodel. If you are doing the work yourself, there is no requirement.

But if you’re hiring a contractor to do the work, even small projects -- replacing cabinets or fixing a plumbing leak -- can trigger this [requirement]. So the number of contractors and homeowners that could be affected by this rule is significant,” Schroeder said.

Kemery said the EPA had offered more than 6,360 courses in lead-safe work practices nationwide, accredited more than 190 course trainers and trained more than 146,000 contractors. He said the agency is “well on track” to meet the original 200,000 target it set as the number of renovators needed to implement the rule nationwide during the first year.

On April 22, an online search of the EPA’s site for certified lead renovators within 50 miles of the San Fernando Valley found 214 firms. The site showed 298 certified firms within 100 miles.

Angie Barnes, a spokeswoman for Angie’s List (www.angieslist.com), a website that lets members review and compare service providers, added an RRP icon this week to help homeowners identify certified companies.

As of April 21, Barnes said six of the 25,000 L.A. service providers in 500 categories (not all related remodeling) on Angie’s List were certified in EPA lead-safety methods.

“We have identified 150 certified contractors nationwide ... [but we] expect to see a quick rise in that number as the deadline passes,” Barnes said.

Schroeder remained unconvinced.

“The number of trainers available is woefully inadequate in relation to the number of contractors nationwide who need to be certified. But if you are going to work on older home, you absolutely need to get the certification. And there is definitely a risk to contractors who don’t know about the rule,” she said.

The new rule does not apply to housing for the elderly or people with disabilities (unless a child under age 6 lives in the house) and a category the EPA called "zero-bedroom dwellings" -- presumably studio apartments and the like.

And while Kemery said the EPA will respond to tips and complaints about violations, he added that in the first year of the rule the focus will be helping firms comply with the rule’s requirements to become lead-safe certified.

So pre-1978 homeowners with remodeling projects underway shouldn’t be overly concerned, initially, experts said. Do some research on lead poisoning. Talk to your contractor about the new guidelines. Ask if they are trained and certified in lead-safe work practices. And, Vidal said, tell a friend.

“Who was supposed to tell whom? Who knows?” he noted. “But I am spreading the word.”

If you're a “DIY” fan, the National Center for Healthy Housing recommends the following safeguards to prevent lead dust from spreading throughout your home:

  • Cover floors with plastic sheeting.
  • If working on a larger job, construct an airlock at the entry to the work area. The airlock consists of two sheets of thick plastic. One sheet is completely taped along all four edges.The plastic sheet is then cut down the middle. The second sheet is only taped along the top and acts as a flap covering the slit in the first sheet of plastic.
  • Remove all furniture, area rugs, curtains, food, clothing and other household items until cleanup is complete.
  • Items that cannot be removed from the work area should be tightly wrapped with plastic sheeting and sealed with tape.
  • Turn off heating and air-conditioning systems. Cover vents with plastic sheeting and tape the sheeting in place.
  • Keep all windows in the work area closed.
  • When disturbing paint with hand or power tools, spray water on lead-painted surfaces to keep dust from spreading.
To find a lead-certified renovation firm in your area, visit https://www.epa.gov/region9/toxic/lead/firms.html or
https://cfpub.epa.gov/flpp/searchrrp_firm.htm.

For information about testing your home for lead-based paint and potential lead hazards, visit the Environmental Protection Agency website or call the National Lead Information Center, (800) 424-5323.

For information about lead dust dangers and how dust spreads, check out the EPA’s video, A Little Dust Goes a Long Way.

For more information about lead exposure and how to protect children from exposure to lead, visit www.leadfreekids.org (also available in Spanish at www.leadfreekids.org/espanol); or call (800) 424-5323.

Don't want to even think about lead-based paint? Here are some newer homes on the market.

1828glendoneave

1828 Glendon Ave., Unit 2, L.A.

Listed at $779,000 at Realtor.com, this three-bedroom, 2 1/2 bathroom Mediterranean penthouse condominium was built in 2005 and features stone flooring and 1,645 square feet.

8071 cambria circle

8071 Cambria Circle, Stanton, Orange County

This newly constructed single-family home is listed at $544,445 at Trulia.com and features four bedrooms and three bathrooms in 1,930 square feet.

4717 firmament

4717 Firmament Ave., Encino

Built in 2008, this Spanish-style single-family pool home is listed at $1.9 million at Trulia.com and features seven bedrooms and 6 1/2 bathrooms and a formal dining room in 5,775 square feet.

350 Long Beach Blvd.

350 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach

This newly constructed urban village from the creators of the Viceroy Santa Monica is listing two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominiums and townhomes in 1,047 square feet starting at $334,000. The community also features three-bedroom townhomes in 1,638 square feet.

Don’t mind the DIY?

829 N. Orange

829 N. Orange Drive, L.A.

This multi-family Hancock Park side-by-side duplex, listed at $780,000 ($119,000 less than its original December starting price) at Trulia.com, was built in 1923 and has a hot tub and a tile roof. The owner’s unit has garage access and was previously leased for $2,625 a month. The second unit leases for $2,100 a month. According to public records, the property last sold in June 2005 for $975,000.

-- Michelle Hofmann

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