The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today extended by one month--until Aug. 6--the period it will accept comments on a proposed addition to its controversial lead-paint rule requiring there be dust-wipe testing after most renovations and that the results be provided to owners and occupants of the building. The extension came the same day that the rule officially was toughened to eliminate a provision that had enabled some affected homeowners to opt out of the provision's requirements.

The EPA actions give the rule's vociferous opponents even more time to protest the measure, which is designed to protect homeowners from the health hazards caused by dust from lead paint but which has also generated a firestorm of protests over the rule's design and implementation. The rule, which was issued April 22, 2008, and took effect on the same date this year, requires contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. (See EPA fact sheet.) Ignoring the new rules can lead to fines of up to $37,500 per day.

The rule that took effect in April contains a provision that exempted a renovation firm from the training and work practice requirements if the homeowner provided a certificate declaring that no child under age 6 or pregnant women lived in the house. But on April 22, the EPA announced its final rule would close that exemption. That opt-out expired today, EPA said in a news release.

"At present, almost a million children have elevated blood lead levels as a result of exposure to lead hazards, which can lead to lower intelligence, learning disabilities, and behavior issues," EPA said. "Adults exposed to lead hazards can suffer from high blood pressure and headaches. EPA has eliminated the so-called opt-out provision because improper renovations in older homes can create lead hazards resulting in harmful health effects for residents and visitors in these homes, regardless of age,. The result will better protect children and adult occupants during and after renovation, repair and painting projects."

Many construction-related organizations, including the National Lumber & Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA), have sought to delay the rule on grounds that it had been inadequately publicized, there weren't enough contractors certified in lead-safe practices, and the rule would push up remodeling costs at a time when the Obama administration was promoting energy retrofits as a creator of jobs.

On June 18, EPA issued a memorandum declaring that the agency won't take enforcement action for violations of the rules certification requirement until Oct. 1 and won't enforce certification requirements against individual renovation workers if they apply to enroll in certified renovator classes by Sept. 30 and complete the training by Dec. 31. "To date, EPA has certified 254 training providers who have conducted more than 16,000 courses and trained an estimated 320,000 renovators in lead-safe work practices," the agency said today.

The dust-wipe test also has generated its share of criticism, particularly from the Window & Door Dealers Alliance (WDDA). That group, which mainly represents replacement contractors, presented a stack of letters to the EPA recently saying that provisions requiring testing after the work is done as well as third-party validation go too far.

"Respondents have provided a wealth of feedback--overwhelmingly adverse--about the new rules, ranging from substantial increases in both hard and soft costs on each job (over and above EPA's own estimate of a $250 incremental increase), to anecdotal accounts of lost business and other serious repercussions from the rule," WDDA's David Walker said.