Despite requests for delays or reconsideration from building material dealers, contractors, and Congressmen, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today the launch of a rule on lead-based paint that's predicted to drastically curb renovations in homes built before 1978. In fact, the EPA today widened the rule's potential impact by announcing it will remove a provision that would have kept a huge number of projects from being subject to the new regulations.

The EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (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.

The original RRP rule, which was issued in 2008 with an effective date of April 22 of this year, 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 the EPA announced today it will issue a final rule effectively closing that exemption. EPA also said it will propose a rule requiring there be dust-wipe testing after most renovations and that the results be provided to owners and occupants of the building. And it gave notice of its intention to investigate lead-based paint hazards that could occur when public and commercial buildings are renovated. If hazards exist, EPA will propose regulations, it said.

A number of organizations, including the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), urged EPA to delay the April 22 effective date. They also helped persuade many members of Congress to write to the EPA expressing concern about the legislation. Some members also called for a delay, echoing NLBMDA's and NAHB's concerns that not nearly enough trainers were around to train contractors and not nearly enough renovators had been trained and certified.

Several organizations focused today on elimination of the opt-out provision.

"While NLBMDA has always supported efforts to protect pregnant women and children from lead poisoning, EPA's removal of the opt-out provision is extremely misguided, as they have provided no adequate data, nor have they demonstrated any benefits or other rationale for expanding the scope of the rule which will add nearly 40 million homes to the 38 million already covered by the rule, NLBMDA president Michael O'Brien said in a statement. "The agency's disregard for the incredible burden this will place on small businesses and homeowners continues despite the inadequate number of EPA-certified trainers, firms, renovators, accurate test kits, and the general lack of awareness within industry and among consumers."

Added Mary Busey Harris, executive vice president, National Association of the Remodeling Industry: "We have many times expressed serious concerns that subsequent revision to the opt-out provision will create confusion and undermine successful implementation."

To date, EPA has certified 204 training providers who in turn have trained an estimated 160,000 people, the agency said. It didn't say how many firms had been certified; EPA previously has estimated the nation would need at least 235,000 firms certified in lead-safe practices.

If a worker already has taken a class to be a certified renovator and if his or her firm applied before April 22 to get the business firm certified but hasn't received the certificate yet, EPA won't take any enforcement action, it said. It said it expected applications filed before April 22 to be reviewed by June, and applications submitted during the first 60 days after April 22 "will be reviewed soon after." EPA is required to process an application within 90 days of receipt.

If a renovator already has a contract to work on a pre-1978 home but hasn't been certified yet, he shouldn't start work until he gets the certificate, EPA added in a just-issued Q-and-A document.

A number of construction groups have noted that the lead rule is coming out just as the Obama administration and Congressional leaders are pushing to enact Home Star, a $6 billion provision giving tax rebates for energy retrofits to homes. Given that a huge number of those homes also would be affected by the EPA's lead rule, RRP could stop Home Star dead in its tracks, the groups argued. There also have been complaints that the testing equipment, clothing and materials needed to comply with RRP will raise remodelers' job costs between 5% and 15% (commentary). Failure to comply could cost renovators fines running tens of thousands of dollars per day.

As for the opt-out provision, the EPA said in a prepublication copy of the final rule that it concluded the opt-out provision "is not sufficiently protective" for children under age 6 and pregnant women. (May 13 Editor's Note: The final rule was published in the May 6 issue of the Federal Register.)

"As pointed out by a number of commenters on the RRP rule, the opt-out provision does not protect families with young children who may purchase recently renovated target housing," the EPA's final rule explained. "Removal of the opt-out will result in fewer homes being purchased with lead hazards created by renovation, repair, and painting activities. Under the RRP rule, the opt-out provision was limited to owner-occupied target housing and did not extend to vacant rental housing because of the concern that future tenants could unknowingly move into a rental unit where dust-lead hazards created by the renovation are present. In the same way, dust-lead hazards created during renovations in an owner-occupied residence conducted prior to a sale will be present for the next occupants. It is common for home owners to hire contractors to perform activities that disturb paint beforeselling a house, thus increasing the likelihood of lead hazards being present for someone buying a home, which may include a family with a child under age 6 or a pregnant woman. There are other benefits to removing the opt-out provision, including protection for family pets, as lead poisonings resulting from renovations have been documented in both cats and dogs."

NAHB's environmental policy analyst, Matt Watkins, said his group also was disappointed by the removal of the opt-out provision.

"Our members have made a significant effort to get trained and certified despite the paucity of accredited trainers and they'll continue to do so," Watkins said. "But with only 6,000 certified firms in the entire nation, it certainly limits consumer choice and creates even more incentive for a consumer to choose an uncertified remodeler or to do the work themselves, which will create even more of a hazard should lead paint be present.

"... We continue to think that the law presents significant expense for the remodeler and his or her clients," Watkins added. "But it is the law, and our members will follow it."