For a law that no often has been said to catch the remodeling industry by surprise, everyone sure does have a lot to say about the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently enacted Lead Repair, Renovation, and Painting (RRP) Rule.

Todd Russell
Todd Russell

The National Association of Home Builders is claiming victory over the EPA with a delay in the implementation of certification requirements and fines associated with certification. Door and window manufacturers and their lobbyists are claiming they had a hand in said victory, as are other supply companies. Some of your representatives are claiming the EPA did not give contractors and other people affected by the RRP legislation enough time to prepare and were slow to educate the general population on the dangers of lead and the new lead rules going into effect as of April 22. And all of them are voicing opinions about the difficulty everyone is having understanding, implementing, and affording the program. Well, I have some things to say about this new law, and the controversy surrounding it, myself.

First of all, let's start with the fact that no one seems to know anything about the new RRP law, or so they claim. I find that hard to believe. This program was introduced in 2008 and is an offspring of many years of CDE, HUD and EPA programs that already rule over lead in 39 of the 50 states. I come from Vermont and we started to deal with state and OSHA-mandated measures to prevent both customer and employee lead poisoning in the early 1980s.

Who didn't know about this program? The NAHB? Isn't its primary reason for existing to keep contractors informed, lobby for them in Washington and provide a source for information? A contractor certainly doesn't pay dues to be included in NAHB member dinners and get a window sticker. And how did it lobby against this program when it is one of the largest agencies attempting to provide RRP classes?

And the statement NAHB made claiming victory after pushing back RRP certification dates is fairly vague. If I were a contractor I would not stake my business on the line by NAHB Chairman Bob Jones in which he declares: "This rule potentially affects about 79 million homeowners. That's how many homes were built before 1978, when lead paint was banned. We need significantly more contractors certified than the 300,000 who have taken the training course, and we also need to make sure that affected homeowners understand the importance of hiring a certified contractor."

I see no mention of what contractors are still responsible for.The statement does not say "Iif you get sued, we will help you financially and legally," does it? And where was NAHB's training program two years ago when its political wing was first aware this program would become law?

Now, how about door and window manufacturers? They certainly are up on all of the rules governing U-values for windows and doors covered under the new Department of Energy Weatherization and Stimulus Energy programs. The manufacturers have changed, at great cost I imagine, the standard U-values from .31 to a new minimum of .30. I know because I put in 13 years' worth of new windows in homes in Alaska as a custom home builder and am currently finishing energy ratings for approximately 1,000 homes involved in Alaska's energy program. So you can't tell me that the window and door manufacturers' associations lacked enough knowledge or time to help their distributors and installers meet the deadline imposed two years ago by the RRP.

I'm quite certain that everyone is aware of the number of incumbents that have been booted from their lofty thrones if you follow Tea Party politics or any news programs. This is a scary time to be a politician. There are certainly some worthy reasons for delaying the fines for non-compliance with certification and training. The tremendous floods are one and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is certainly helping to deter a larger crisis by postponing some regulation of the RRP.

On the other hand, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who claims to be instrumental in delaying the RRP certification process votes against all issues related to abortion. He is obviously pro life on the surface, but lead is linked to hyperactivity, delayed brain development and even fatalities in children whose bodies soak up lead like they do calcium and at a rate far above that of adults. Lead poisoning has been linked to problems with pregnancies from low birth weight to miscarriage and many other complications and birth defects. That seems strange, doesn't it?

Of all of the groups and representatives listed in the paragraphs above, only one appears to be circumventing a true emergency with their actions: Lamar Alexander. The others are attempting to increase sales, retain memberships or gain favor.

Now let me note here that I work for a company that is trying to expand a program delivering the RRP. I am the lead training coordinator for Wisdom and Associates, Inc. Do I have an agenda? You're darn right. I want to see a program that is necessary and long awaited not be cut to shreds by lobbyists, special-interest groups, partisan politics or any inconsequential group with any inconsequential reason.

That may seem harsh, but this is someone's life we are debating. The waters have become muddy because lack of clarity creates question, question creates doubt and doubt will cause law makers to waver on an issue that is unpopular with donors in an election year with a marginal economy.

All of the programs preceding the RRP in all of the 39 states that already have a lead program in place are much more restrictive than the RRP program will ever be. The objective of this program is to give everyone a safe option to circumvent abatement, which is prohibitively expensive. I have had contractors call me within weeks of a class with questions about implementation or how to deal with certain situation. Most have found lead on jobs that two months ago they would have worked in and possibly become sick from.

If you are a contractor reading this article, ask yourself a few questions. First, do any of the people who claim to represent you actually have your best interest in mind? Second, have they been forthcoming about this program or about what they personally will do to help you should you find yourself in a bad situation? Last but most important, is a job really worth the life of any one person? The powers that be will try to convince you, without stating it that bluntly, that it is. I am hoping you will not be convinced.

Todd Russell is a longtime builder in New England and Alaska. He also is a building inspector and energy rater, and currently is lead trainer at Wisdom and Associates, a building science training and certification company based in Kenai, Alaska. The articles expressed in this column are his own. Contact him at [email protected].