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.
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