The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered its staff today to not take action until Oct. 1 on any certification violations it sees involving its new rule governing repairs and remodeling in old homes where there's a danger of stirring up dust from lead-based paint.

The change is designed to give contractors more time to get training and certification required under EPA's Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule, Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a memo sent to enforcement division directors.

"Until Oct. 1, EPA will not take enforcement action for violations of the RRP Rule's firm certification requirement," Giles' memo said. "For violations of the RRP Rule's renovation worker certification requirement, EPA will not enforce against individual renovation workers if the person has applied to enroll in, or has enrolled in, by not later than Sept. 30, a certified renovator class to train contractors in practices necessary for compliance with the final rules. Renovators must complete the training by Dec. 31."

A copy of the memo was posted on the Internet by the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA), which has lobbied vigorously for a delay. The rule was issued in 2008 with an effective date of April 22, but even with that two-year lead time there was scant awareness nationwide of the rule and its potential impact. NLBMDA and other groups argued there weren't enough certifiers and classes available given that the rule affects work on every home in America built before 1978.

To date, there have been 15,000 classes nationwide and 300,000 people trained, Giles wrote in her memo. Then she added: "The agency believes, however, that allowing additional time for firms and individuals to obtain that training and certification will facilitate compliance with the rule. The agency appreciates the many unique challenges around the country, including numerous disaster declarations, and is committed to encouraging additional training opportunities in every state in order to meet the demand for classes."

The RRP rule is intended to protect children and pregnant women from lead-based paint, exposure to which can lead to learning disabilities, behavior issues and reduced intelligence. Starting now, contractors working in homes built before 1978--the year lead paint was banned--must be trained and certified in lead-safe work practices. Failure to follow the rules can subject renovators to heavy fines.

A ProSales/NLBMDA survey conducted just after the rule took affect found that one out of four building material dealers responding say remodelers and renovators have canceled work on a project because they lack the certification needed under the new rule, and one out of 20 respondents said remodelers and renovators have returned materials because of the rule (story). The Window & Door Dealers Alliance, another trade group that has launched its own effort to battle part of the rule, said results of an ongoing survey found more than 70% of the 100-plus respondents to date say their company has lost business since the rule went into effect.

NLBMDA wasn't shy about spreading the news, but it wasn't declaring victory, either.

"NLBMDA continues to have numerous concerns with the overly complex and burdensome RRP Rule, including the removal of the opt-out provision and the lack of reliable test kits," the association said in a statement."The rule could have a severe impact on the remodeling market in several parts of the country and expose dealers and contactors to unnecessary liability. In addition, new proposals from EPA on clearance testing and an expansion of the rule to commercial construction pose additional challenges for the industry, which has still yet to recover from the recession. NLBMDA will continue to seek ways to mitigate the impact of the rule on the industry."