Friday, May 26, 2006

Comments on EPA's proposed Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule

With the stated goal of this rule being, “…to ensure that lead-based paint hazards are not created and left behind after residential renovations,” EPA has placed the responsibility of achieving the goal of Title X squarely on the shoulders of the remodeling industry. That goal of course being to eliminate childhood lead-poisoning by the year 2010. In EPA’s attempt to promulgate rules regulating lead in remodeling activities they have created a series of major issues that will greatly affect the remodeling industry as a whole.

The RRP does not correlate or reconcile with existing regulations protecting workers.

With OSHA regulating worker exposure to lead through 29CFR1926.62 Lead Exposure in Construction, it certainly strikes an odd note that the RRP does not prohibit known unsafe lead work practices such as open flame burning, chemical stripping, abrasive blasting and dry sanding or scrapping. This lack of interdepartmental collaboration will cause remodeling contractors to ask the question which regulation should one follow? A unified approach to the issue of prohibited practices and agreement on what constitutes lead safe work practices would eliminate what will undoubtedly cause confusion to the renovation firms and the renovation customers.

It provides incentive to homeowners to not hire professional remodeling contractors.

Many of the practical applications contained within the proposed rule can be used as a model for how to control the creation of and better contain not only lead dust, but all types of dust found on a remodeling project. Those renovation contractors with solid business structures and operating procedures conduct their projects in such a way as to minimize exposure to workers or occupants to any potentially hazardous materials. Subsequently, the pricing structure and customer expectations of such sophisticated contractors already factors in the costs of controlling dust; however, not to the degree of clean-up, clearance requirement and training which is called for in the RRP. For the novice, up-start or less sophisticated contractor the cost of implementing such control measures will certainly get passed along to customers. These additional costs ranging from 5-20% will undoubtedly find their way directly to the customer. Such significant cost increases will either un-motivate a homeowner from doing basic maintenance and upgrades or other renovations due to cost or hire unskilled and untrained personnel to complete their projects. Either of these options leads to an exacerbation of lead hazards or the creation of lead hazards.

This rule does nothing to provide protection for those companies or individuals working in housing built before 1978.

As a remodeling contractor that carries general liability insurance as a general contractor, I had a tough time reading the lead exclusion clause of my liability policy. This left me feeling particularly uneasy when I started thinking of all the target-housing projects I have completed that are essentially dormant potential lead liability law suites. Sure there are pollution liability riders that can be obtained if lucky enough to find one. However, the application processes and yearly premiums are cost prohibitive. Such a liability rider is difficult to obtain if a renovator is not an EPA certified lead abatement company or industrial hygienist.

The RRP does not go far enough in providing strategies to reach the goal of Title X.

Residential remodeling activity surpassed $230-billion dollars in 2005. Of that, 40-50% of that activity was conducted by do-it-yourself contractors. The RRP only applies in the case where renovations were performed for compensation. This stipulation carves out a large part of the renovation activity from being under the jurisdiction of this rule. Subsequently, combining the amount of current renovation activity being completed by non-professionals with the increased underground activity sure to happen in response to this rule, the RRP may in-fact lead to increased childhood lead-poisoning. The EPA should take the goal of Title X more seriously and shift the emphasis of lead exposure from the professional remodeler and onto this unregulated segment of the population.

Additionally, the rule has spawned some more simple questions:

How do workers clean or protect motor housings on power hand-tools from dust?
How do firms determine the age of the home?
What does a firm do if there was no child present at time of signing contract and is present at the start of a renovation?
Has the EPA considered the cost of collateral damage due to the construction of dust containment systems?
Why is there no mention of using air-scrubbers to capture dust?