On March 31, after years of research, proposals, debate, and revisions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its final rule on lead-safe work practices. The rule fulfills the EPA's obligation — laid out in the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992 — to “establish standards for performing lead-based paint activities that are reliable, effective, and safe.”

Much of the text of the rule should look familiar to those who have closely followed this issue. Two years ago, the EPA issued a proposed rule (March 2006 REMODELING, p. 25) that served as the framework for this final rule; that proposal was supplemented by a proposal released by the agency in June 2007. There are certainly changes from those documents to the final rule — some larger or more important than others — but the basics, described in the rest of this article, are no surprise: A new information brochure to be distributed to homeowners; the banning of certain work practices when dealing with lead-based paint; standards for performing renovations that disturb lead-based paint; and required certification and training.

Editor's Note: Although the final rule was more than a month old by the time this issue of REMODELING went to press, several people within the remodeling community whom we consider experts on the subject had not yet finished reviewing it or formulating an opinion on its impact. Therefore, the purpose of this article is solely to inform readers of some of the provisions of the new rule, although readers are encouraged to visit www.epa.gov/lead for a more thorough treatment. Stay tuned to www.remodelingmag.com in the coming weeks and months for discussion of the impact of this regulation.

WHEN AND WHERE It's helpful to think of the new rule as accomplishing two objectives: It establishes the methods in which renovations that disturb lead-based paint must be performed, and it sets up certification and training requirements for home improvement companies doing those renovations. With certain exceptions, it applies to renovations that disturb lead-based paint in houses, child-care facilities, and schools built before 1978.

The EPA is encouraging contractors to adopt the work practices laid out in the rule, but the rule doesn't go into effect until April 22, 2010. One other key date is December 22, 2008. That's when contractors will be required to provide a copy of the EPA's new lead information pamphlet — “Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers, and Schools” — to owners and tenants of buildings that will undergo renovations that disturb lead-based paint. This new pamphlet will replace the one titled “Lead: Protect Your Family,” which remodelers have been required to disseminate to clients for the last nine years.

SAFE WORK PRACTICES The rule specifically bans certain techniques when renovating an area containing lead paint. They are here, in full, excerpted from the April 22, 2008 edition of the Federal Register:

  • Open flame burning or torching of lead-based paint;
  • The use of machines that remove lead-based paint through high-speed operation such as sanding, grinding, power planing, needle gun, abrasive blasting, or sandblasting, unless such machines are used with HEPA exhaust control;
  • Operating a heat gun above 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

CERTIFICATION AND TRAINING

The new rule requires two levels of certification. Once the rule goes into effect, any company undertaking renovations covered under the rule must be certified by the EPA to do so. There is no training for this aspect: Starting on October 22, 2009, firms will send an application plus relevant fees to the agency, which will then evaluate the company on the basis of the environmental compliance history of it, its principals, and its key employees. Firms will be required to renew their certification every five years.

In addition, each remodeling project covered under the rule must have a certified renovator assigned to it. Individuals wishing to become certified renovators must enroll in a class accredited by the EPA. At a minimum, classes must be eight hours long and feature two hours of hands-on training. Individuals with previous EPA or Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) training in lead-safe work practices will be required only to take a refresher course to earn this certification. Certified renovators must renew their certification every five years, though the renewal course will be half as long as the original certification class. Training programs can begin applying for EPA accreditation beginning on April 22, 2009, and individuals may pursue certification as soon as it's available.

CERTIFIED RENOVATORS As previously mentioned, each project that falls under the new rule must have a certified renovator assigned to it. That individual is not required to perform the renovation or even be on site for all of it, though he or she must be present for certain stages. The certified renovator is responsible for providing on-the-job training to anyone who is not a certified renovator themselves and who will be working on the project. They must also be available — if not on site, then by phone — at all times while the renovation is taking place.

The rule essentially identifies six stages of the project:

  • Occupant protection. Signs that define the work area and caution people to remain outside it must be posted before the project starts and remain posted until the very end. The certified renovator must be present for this step.
  • Containment. The rule lays out extensive requirements for isolating the work area to prevent dust and debris from escaping while work is being performed. The certified renovator assigned to the project must be present while containment is established.
  • Renovation. Individuals working on the project must follow the lead-safe work practices previously mentioned. As noted, the certified renovator does not have to be present for the entire renovation, but must provide on-the-job training to workers and must be reachable at all times while work is being done.
  • Waste management. The rule establishes involved processes for ensuring that lead dust doesn't contaminate beyond the work area. All personnel and items leaving the work area must be free of dust and debris, and all waste must be properly contained.
  • Cleanup. Individuals cleaning the work area at the end of the project must be trained in the proper techniques, which include the use of HEPA vacuums.
  • Cleaning verification. One of the more controversial aspects of the proposed rule from two years ago was the “white glove test,” in which renovators would be required to wipe down surfaces in the work area with a damp white cloth and compare it to a cleaning verification card provided by the EPA. If the color of the cloth matched or was lighter than the card, the surface was clean; if darker, the surface would have to be recleaned and then retested, with the process repeating until the cloth matched the card.

This final rule has the same relative spirit, with limitations. After a visual inspection confirming that there is no visible dust on the surface, the certified renovator — this is the one part of the process that person must do themselves — must wipe it with a wet cloth and compare it to the cleaning verification card. If the cloth is darker than the card, the surface must be recleaned and then retested with a fresh wet cloth. If the cloth still doesn't pass the test, the certified renovator must wait one hour or until the surface dries, whichever is longer, then wipe it with a dry cloth. Once that step is complete, the project will be considered clean, and no further testing is required.

Records asserting that the regulations were followed must be kept by the renovation firm for three years.