EPA’s Efforts Toward Commercial Remodeling

The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s residential lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule has been quite a controversial regulation for the past several years. Now the agency is considering expanding the rule to commercial renovations. Washington-based National Association of Home Builders members have no argument that lead is toxic to young children, and additional studies are being done to identify the risks to adults. But the policy established by EPA and its implementation will not only do little to protect the public but hasten the growth of the remodeling “black market” that has further undermined our professional remodelers’ ability to compete.

How We Got Here

The Toxic Substances Control Act gives EPA the authority to regulate commercial work if the agency finds commercial remodeling creates a lead hazard. In the late 1990s, EPA did four studies on the links between residential remodeling and lead hazards. One included renovations done in a school building; the rest were done in homes. From those studies, EPA wrote its 2008 lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule, which incorporated certification, training, work practices and recordkeeping as its requirements.

That same year, a band of public health and environmental advocates filed suit against EPA over the new rule. Under the George W. Bush EPA, the agency held a strong position that its rule was sound. However in 2009, under the new Obama Administration, EPA settled the suit and agreed to amend the rule—and also said it would pursue regulations for lead in commercial and public buildings. In 2010, EPA published an advanced notice that it would be starting the process of writing regulations, but it has yet to do a study linking commercial remodeling to lead hazards.

Possible Requirements

I expect any commercial regulations will reflect what is contained in the residential rule. First, the residential rule requires training of personnel and certifications of remodeling companies.

The rule also requires notification to residents about the health effects of lead and prohibits the use of torches or high heat guns, mechanical sanding or grinding to remove paint. Remodelers must cover floors or the ground with plastic and seal windows, doorways and vents to prevent lead dust from migrating out of the work area. These practices are in addition to the worker protections required by the Washington-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which consist of wearing a Tyvek suit and shoe covering, as well as proper breathing apparatus. The interior cleanup includes wiping down all floors and sills with disposable washcloths or a Washington-based U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved “double mopping system.” Finally, an in-depth record of the job must be kept on file for three years and made available to EPA at a moment’s notice.

About the Author

Matt Watkins
Matt Watkins is a program manager and environmental policy analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Home Builders, a trade association serving single and multifamily home builders, remodelers and specialty contractors. He has been working on the lead in remodeling issue since 2007.

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