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New EPA rules impact work in homes built before 1978
By Jean Murphy | Daily Herald Correspondent

Kristina Nicholson, second from left, of Occupational Training & Supply, Inc., shows what a positive test for lead looks like.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

A closeup of the Lead Check instant lead testing kit that area contractors learned how to use to check for lead in paint.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Jason Werr, from Wheaton, uses a test kit to see if a sample piece of wood has lead paint on it.


Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/10/2010 11:48 PM

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Painting, renovations and even window replacements in homes built before 1978 may slow to a crawl after April 22, thanks to a new Environmental Protection Agency rule that goes into effect that day.

The problem is that many painters and contractors remain untrained and, therefore, uncertified, in the new EPA requirements.

Construction delays may occur even though the EPA has publicized the pending rule change through trade organizations, unions, trade magazines, permitting organizations and retailers who cater to contractors, since the law's passage in April of 2008.

Those who do not possess the certification on April 22 can't disturb more than six square feet of painted interior wall, or more than 20 square feet of painted exterior walls, in pre-1978 homes until they go through the necessary training. Both a worker and the company must receive the new EPA certifications.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, "Few subcontractors associated with home building and remodeling (including insulation and HVAC installers and others) are even aware of the Lead Renovation Repair and Painting Rule that will govern remodeling activities in homes and child-occupied facilities built before 1978."

"Those who are aware of it may assume it targets only professional remodelers," the statement continues, "but this is not the case." In fact, it can apply to any contractor who installs windows, insulation, home entertainment equipment or similar items that disturbs walls.

The rule also applies to work done in schools and child-care facilities built before 1978.

Under the EPA's new Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting program, contractors doing work in these houses must possess an RRP certification, have undergone a specialized training course and follow specific safe work procedures in order to prevent dangerous lead paint exposure, which can affect children's brains and nervous systems and cause high blood pressure in adults.

"The RRP Rule is an important part of the EPA's overall strategy for eliminating childhood lead poisoning," a Washington, D.C. spokesman for the agency said. "In 1991, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services characterized lead poisoning as the No. 1 environmental threat to the health of children in the United States."

Primarily in response to this persistent health threat, in 1992 Congress enacted the Residential Lead-based Paint Hazard Reduction Act (Title X of Public Law 102-550) to protect against childhood lead poisoning. The new EPA mandate flows from this law.

Area homebuilders associations, unions, retailers and others have encouraged those affected to prepare for the rule change. So they have been holding training sessions for their members and clients for months.

Rich Cowgill, owner of Vision Design and Build Inc. in Willow Springs and executive vice president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry of Greater Chicagoland, is one of the certified trainers conducting these classes around Chicago and its suburbs.

What is involved in the course and what is the cost?

The required eight-hour training course varies in cost, but generally costs between $250 and $400 per person, Cowgill said. It includes two hours of hands-on work and an exam. Once at least one person becomes a certified renovator, then the firm they own or work for must apply to the EPA to become a certified renovation firm and that costs $300 and takes about five weeks to get the paperwork back. The certification is then good for five years.

Why is this necessary?

"We need to protect families from the damaging health effects of lead dust which flies through the air during demolition or sanding," he said. "They should have passed something like this years ago because it would have reduced the number of lead poisonings we have seen in children."

What changes in work practices do painters and others need to institute?

"As of April 22, they can't work on a pre-1978 house unless they are certified and can show that certification," Cowgill said.

"In addition, they have to wear protective clothing if they are creating lots of dust and they need to get rid of their canvas tarps, which can spread dangerous paint dust from house to house. Instead they need to use disposable plastic sheeting and clean up with a wet vacuum or a HEPA vacuum to contain the dangerous dust. There are also documents that need to be filled out and an EPA brochure that needs to be given to homeowners when the work contract is signed.

"Time-wise, it might add a couple of hours to a job. Cost-wise, it would probably add $20 to the cost of replacing a window, $50 per room when just painting and $800 to a big renovation job. So we are not talking about that much money," he added.

"Finally, they have to keep records of their work for three years and if the EPA asks to see those records, they have to have them available," Cowgill said.

It is important to note that only one person on each job must be RRP certified. He or she is expected to supervise the other workers and instruct them on safe work practices.

What happens if a painter or renovator doesn't get the training and does the work anyway?

"A fine of $37,500 per day is levied on the contractor by the EPA and since it is a civil fine, you can't bankrupt out of it or change the name of your firm to escape it," Cowgill cautioned.

Once a contractor is certified, his name will appear on the EPA Web site list of certified contractors ( so that homeowners and local building code enforcement officials can be sure that they are dealing with compliant contractors, he said.

Small contractors can logon to the EPA Web site to see the "Small Entity Compliance Guide" which will give them a record-keeping checklist to help them comply with the regulations and there is also information about where to get the necessary training.

Does this apply to someone working on their own home?

"No. Homeowners working on the home in which they actually live are exempt, although they should voluntarily safeguard themselves and their families by following the safe work procedures," Cowgill said.

"But someone who owns a rental property and does work in that property is not exempt. They must have the certification and follow the rules, so this definitely affects landlords," he added.

When and where are some upcoming training classes?

Public Health and Safety Inc. has several classes scheduled. Its calendar of upcoming classes in Chicago, Elgin and Rockford can be viewed ononline at But they are not the only certified provider of training. You can also call the Northern Illinois Home Builders Association at (630) 978-9000. That organization has also been offering classes.