Bad Air in ‘Green’ Buildings

July 22, 2010

Much-touted LEED-certified buildings may not be so perfect.
By Melinda Tuhus

As the “green design” economy grows, consumers tend to equate energy-efficient construction with environmentalism. We assume green buildings are in the interest of both the planet and public health. But a recent dust-up between a nonprofit that certifies energy-efficient buildings and a nonprofit concerned about human health has challenged this easy association, raising questions about the costs of going “green.”

A May report from Connecticut-based Environment and Human Health, Inc., titled “LEED Certification: Where Energy Efficiency Collides with Human Health,” raises concerns about indoor air quality in LEED-certified buildings. A certification of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The report notes that LEED certification offers a total of 110 points in seven categories, and that it’s possible to get the top rating—Platinum—while scoring zero points (out of 15) in “indoor environmental quality.”

The seven LEED categories include energy and atmosphere; sustainable sites; indoor environmental quality; materials and resources; water efficiency; innovation in design; and bonus credits. Of the 110 points, 35 are allocated to energy and atmosphere.

The report also raises questions about the quality of water (not just water efficiency), and the presence of pesticides in the building. It states, “There is no legal requirement to inform occupants about the chemicals that have been applied, their potential health effects, or their rate of dissipation.”

The report recommends remedies to these problems, such as putting more health experts on the USGBC board and requiring that builders earn a minimum number of points in each category.

Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at USGBC, said EHHI’s objections seemed based on theory. “In practice,” he said, “it’s very hard to earn a Platinum rating without addressing indoor air quality.”

According to the report, as buildings become “greener,” i.e., tighter and more energy-efficient, the danger of trapping pollutants inside increases. The report’s lead author is John Wargo, a professor of risk analysis and environmental policy at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In an e-mail, he said USGBC certification fails to mandate adequate “ventilation rates.”

“The solution to pollution is not dilution, as the ventilation standards suggest,” Wargo writes. “The true solution is to avoid bringing the hazardous chemicals into the built environment in the first place. “

New Haven has 12 LEED-certified buildings, three of which are Platinum-rated. One of them is 360 State, an upscale apartment building with ground level retail at the edge of downtown scheduled to open later this year. “The [EHHI] report is right on target,” developer Bruce Becker says. “We took indoor air quality very seriously.” He says he spent an additional $100,000 to install wood cabinets and doors that had not been treated with the preservative formaldehyde. “It off-gases and that’s a problem; a green building tends not to breathe as much as traditional buildings. If you have a tight building that doesn’t allow any air movement, it’s poisonous.”

In a June 4 open letter to EHHI, USGBC founder and President S. Richard Fedrizzi wrote, “We could not agree more with the need for serious action on improved indoor air quality. But your report fails to provide a complete picture of how interconnected the built environment and public health truly are.” He then invited EHHI to meet and discuss how the two groups might collaborate.

EHHI accepted the invitation. The meeting will take place on July 22 in one of New Haven’s architectural jewels: the Platinum-LEED-certified Kroon Hall, the new home of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Regardless of the outcome, Wargo says he plans to continue working “to assure that green buildings are healthy buildings.”

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
Microshield Environmental Services, LLC
www.Microshield-ES.com www.CFL-IAQ.com


Feds Delay Enforcement of EPA Lead RRP

July 21, 2010

Feds delay enforcement of lead training

Since April 22, contractors who disturb at least six square feet of painted surfaces in homes built before 1978 – and in “child-occupied” places like day care centers – must be certified in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved training for lead-safe work practices.

The goal is to prevent the spread of harmful lead dust and paint chips.

But in a concession to contractors who are still scrambling to meet the training requirements, the EPA announced this month that it won’t pursue enforcement against violating contractors until Oct. 1.

Some contractors affected by the rule, including homebuilders and remodelers, have “been concerned about not having had enough time to get training,” said Dan Newman, executive director of the Sustainable Resources Center (SRC) in Minneapolis, an approved training provider.

As of late February, only about 1,000 to 1,500 of Minnesota’s 15,000 to 19,000 licensed building contractors had met the requirement. Nationally, 300,000 people have been trained so far in more than 15,000 classes, according to the EPA.

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Demand has tapered off, but SRC is still getting “several calls a day about people wanting training,” Newman said.

“We are continuing to offer training. … People need to be in compliance with the law.”

Newman said his organization has trained more than 500 people so far. Other organizations, such as the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, also offer approved classes.

“It appears to me in Minnesota we have ample opportunities for people to be trained,” he said.

For whatever reason, however, many people still aren’t meeting the requirement.

The federal government has separate requirements for firms and individual workers to be certified under the RRP rule.

Since April 22, the “regulated community” has raised concerns about “difficulties experienced in obtaining the rule-required firm certification and renovation worker training,” according to a June 18 memo from Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the U.S. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Because of those concerns, the memo stated, the EPA won’t pursue enforcement actions for violations of the “firm certification” requirement until Oct. 1.

Moreover, the EPA is giving individual workers until Sept. 30 to enroll or apply to enroll in an approved class. They must complete the trailing by Dec. 31.

Industry groups such as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) cheered the EPA’s announcement. NAHB officials say the rule affects about 79 million people who live in pre-1978 homes.

“The thing to remember about this, the delay in enforcement is really a delay in certification requirements for the rule, and that the work practices are still required to be done,” said Matt Watkins, environmental policy analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based NAHB.

In short, the idea is to buy more time for contractors to get into courses.

“In some regions of the country there are fewer trainers, so folks that want to get trained can’t find a course to get into or the course they want to get into is full,” Watkins said.

Meanwhile, the EPA memo made it clear that the feds are not backing down from the mandates.

“EPA issued the Lead RRP rule because a disturbing number of America’s children are still poisoned by lead-based paint in their homes – leading to learning and behavioral disorders,” the memo noted.

The rule, which covers work done for hire, requires lead-safe work practices such as minimizing dust, using heavy plastic sheeting to cover the floors and closing windows and doors near the work area.

Violators face fines of up to $37,500 per day per job site.

Minnesota is making an effort to secure contractor compliance without creating extra levels of bureaucracy.

A new law that goes into effect Feb. 1 requires builders who work on properties covered by the RRP rule to provide proof of certification as a condition of obtaining a building permit.

Newman said the bill had bipartisan support and buy-in from the contractors’ groups.

“Contractors who abide by the rules will not have to be concerned, or as concerned, about people who are not abiding by the rule engaging in unfair competition,” Newman said.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is promoting a new law that sets what the MCEA calls “one of the toughest standards in the nation for protecting Minnesota children from lead.”

The law, which takes effect Thursday, requires the state’s health department to essentially lower the bar for measuring the point at which it’s deemed appropriate to take action on the presence of lead in a child’s blood.

Specifically, the new law will create lead-blood guidelines “at half of the federal standard, making Minnesota one of the first in the nation with this tougher standard,” the MCEA noted.

A news conference about the new law is set for 9:30 a.m. Monday, at Veterans Memorial Park in Richfield. Scheduled speakers include a woman whose child was diagnosed with lead in her blood, according to the MCEA.

Newman said the Richfield location was chosen in part to drive home the point that lead safety is not just an inner-city concern.

“Any home built before 1978 has lead,” he noted. “The 1950s and ‘60s homes in many Minneapolis and St. Paul suburbs have lead issues.”

•John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
•Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
•Microshield Environmental Services, LLC
•www.Microshield-ES.com http://www.CFL-IAQ.com


EPA Changes RRP Enforcement Deadline

July 21, 2010

The EPA today announced changes to the Renovation Repair and Painting Rule’s firm certification requirement. The EPA will not take enforcement action for violations of the rule until October 1, 2010.

The announcement also states that EPA won’t enforce against individual renovation workers if that person has applied to enroll in, or has enrolled in, by September 30, 2010, a certified renovator class. Renovators must complete the training by December 31, 2010.

Both remodeling industry associations — NAHB and NARI – which, along with other associations and organizations in the building industry, have been lobbying for months to have the rule changed applaud the action. “This is what we’ve been asking for since before April 22 [the original deadline] when we went to Congress and walked the halls,” says Dave Merrick, chair of the government affairs committee for NARI national and owner of Merrick Design and Build in Kensington, Md.

“This is really good news,” says Donna Shirey, chair of the NAHB Remodelers and owner of Shirey Contracting, Issaquah, Wash. “It allows contractors and companies to have more time to be certified. And they’re not putting companies in jeopardy because of the lack of trainers—which has been an issue. Some states have no trainers at all.”

However, remodelers need to observe caution. While the wording appears positive on the surface, attorney DS Berenson, whose Washington, D.C.-area firm Johanson Berenson serves many in the building industry, worries that this may lead to unnecessary risk exposure. “There’s a conudrum now. A contractor is still suppsed to test and do lead safe work practices but doesn’t have the registration to do that,” Berenson says. “Now he or she is libel for doing lead safe practices even though he or she is not licensed to do lead safe practices. It opens you up to liability exposure from the EPA, the homeowner and the 1-800-sue-your-lawyer.”

EPA’s announcement can be downloaded by clicking here. For more information on compliance with the RRP, click here.


EPA Clarifies that RRP Enforcement Delay Applies to Certification, Not to Safety Practices and Recordkeeping

July 21, 2010

On June 18, 2010, the EPA published a memorandum about a partial enforcement delay for the Repair, Renovation and Painting (RRP) Rule. Citing delays and difficulties on the part of firms and renovators to obtain the necessary certifications, the EPA announced a delay in enforcement for the certification portions of the rule. Specifically, the EPA stated that:

* they will not enforce the firm certification requirement of the RRP Rule until October 1, 2010
* they will not enforce the certification requirement of the RRP Rule against individual renovation workers if they have taken or have applied to take a certification class by September 30, 2010 (providing the training will be completed by December 31, 2010)

As information about the RRP enforcement delay spread across the internet, various misinformation quickly spread as well. The most common misinterpretation was that the enforcement delay applied to the entire RRP rule. This was merely an affliction of hopeful thinking, which the EPA promptly squelched with its new clarification, delivered in a “question and answer” format.

In the updated notice, the EPA clarifies that the safety practices and recordkeeping portions of the RRP Rule are currently in effect and are not part of the delay. This indicates that renovators who have not yet taken the training are still expected to be following the safety and recordkeeping practices spelled out in the Rule.

Renovators who have not yet taken the required training are being encouraged to reference the EPA’s model training materials, at http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/training.htm .


EPA Announces Delay of Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rules Enforcement

July 21, 2010

On June 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the delay of enforcement of the new Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) regulations that had been put into effect on April 22, 2010. The delays, as stated in a June 18 EPA (http://www.dealer.org/files/EPA_Delay_Announcement_6_18_10.pdf) memo are:

# Until October 1, 2010, EPA will not take enforcement action for violations of the RRP Rule’s firm certification requirement. (It should be noted, however, that only the certification requirement is delayed and that failing to follow safe work processes will trigger a violation).

# 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 September 30, 2010, a certified renovator class to train contractors in practices necessary for compliance with the final rules. Renovators must complete the training by December 31, 2010.

Rich Walker, American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA http://www.aamanet.org/ ) president and CEO, stated “We are pleased that the Environmental Protection Agency has listened and responded to at least one of the concerns of our members and those of the remodeling and renovation industry. The recovery of the economy depends heavily on the health of the construction industry, including renovation, remodeling and retrofitting work, all of which are directly affected by the Lead RRP rules.”

The June 18 EPA delay notice follows the introduction of an amendment within the Fiscal Year 2010 Emergence Appropriation Bill from Senator Susan Collins (R- Maine) which would prevent EPA from fining contractors for non-compliance with the training requirements for lead paint hazard mitigation if the contractors sign up for the mandatory EPA training by September 30, 2010. This bill is scheduled to go before the House for final approval on Friday, June 25.

During debate for the amendment, staunch proponents of the EPA’s final rule, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California), reiterated the EPA’s claims of an adequate stock of statewide and “traveling” certification trainers and certified renovators. Senator Feinstein stated, “In reality, passing this amendment would put the United States Senate on record as supporting efforts to prevent EPA from fining those who knowingly violate the provisions of the rule — even if those actions result in lead poisoning of children.”

“Many proponents respond to any implementation delay requests by suggesting that they alone are concerned for the welfare of at-risk populations,” states Janice Charletta, AAMA association services director. “AAMA, its membership and others impacted by the LRRP have repeatedly contended and continue to state that safety is a top priority. But we must recognize that the safety of children and the population as a whole will occur as a result of a well-designed and well-implemented action plan on the part of EPA.”

Unfortunately, the lack of an adequate number of certified trainers throughout the country is only one of the problems associated with implementing the EPA final rule with the exclusion of the “opt-out” provision. Another continued concern relates to the mandated use of unreliable test kits that will needlessly burden homeowners with the increased costs of lead abatement, where lead may not be present. EPA representatives have acknowledged that the current testing kits register a high percentage of false-positive readings.

As written within the final rule and reiterated in the fiscal report issued by the Government Accountability Office, “EPA estimates that the final rule will cost approximately $500 million in the first year, with the cost expected to drop to approximately $300 million per year starting with the second year, when improved test kits for detecting the presence of lead-based paint are assumed to become available.”

Forcing homeowners to pay for potentially unnecessary lead abatement based on EPA-acknowledged faulty testing becomes a legal issue. According to Walker, any contractor using test kits known to have less than a 60% accuracy rate would be targeted for litigation.

AAMA continues to advocate for a full review of the EPA final rule as requested in a letter to Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer from Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma). Additionally, the association is working with AAMA members and other affected industries to solicit additional co-sponsors for S3296 (Inhofe) and HR5177 (Representative Denny Rehberg; R-Montana), two bills currently circulating that request a full year delay in the implementation of the final rule.

Walker believes that allowing the final rule, as written, to be implemented puts the Senators opposing an implementation extension on record as supporting efforts to force homeowners to pay for unnecessary abatement procedures based on the use of faulty test kits of which Congress was made fully aware.

“A number of important issues need to be addressed before the public is faced with paying for this overreaching and poorly administered provision. We are hopeful that all members of Congress will take their position of providing oversight seriously in this matter and determine that a hearing examining the EPA decision to remove the opt-out provision is necessary and warranted,” states Walker.

He continues, “We have seen firsthand, in these last few months, the power of a unified industry voice lobbying for change in legislation. We will continue to work with government and industry leaders to bring the message of our industry to Washington to continue to serve the best interests of the public, our members and the fenestration industry as a whole.”


Lead RRP Rules Enforcement has been delayed by EPA.

July 21, 2010

July 6, 2010 – On June 18, EPA announced delay of enforcement of new Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) regulations that had been put into effect on April 22. Until October 1, EPA will not take enforcement action for violations of RRP Rule’s firm certification requirement. Concerning violations of 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 certified renovator class.


Senate Looks to Delay EPA Lead RRP Violations

July 21, 2010

The U.S. Senate is trying to provide some relief to contractors facing compliance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Paint Rule (RRP).

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will temporarily block fines that require certification to remove lead paint in homes and certain facilities built prior to 1978. The proposal was attached to a supplemental funding bill and approved by a 60-37 vote on May 27.

The amendment prohibits the EPA from using funds in the bill to levy fines against contractors under its new lead paint abatement rule through September 30. The bill is now in the hands of the House of Representatives.

The RRP Rule, which went into effect on April 22, requires contractors to be EPA certified when working in homes built before 1978, or face fines up to $37,500 per violation per day.

“I support the EPA lead paint abatement rule. There simply is no question that we must continue our efforts to rid lead-based paint from our homes, Collins said in a press release following the vote. “But the EPA has botched the implementation of this rule.”

“The problem is there still aren’t enough EPA-certified trainers in place to certify contractors,” Collins added. “As a result, contractors face devastating fines. The intent of my amendment is to give small contractors and construction professionals more time to comply with the new rule.”

The amendment is supported by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Association of Homebuilders, the Window and Door Manufacturer Association, and the National Lumber, and Building Material Dealers Association.


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