EPA RRP Chief Tanya Mottley at the Remodeling Leadership Conference
EPA RRP Chief Tanya Mottley at the Remodeling Leadership Conference

(Download Mottley's presentation)

The federal government's lead-paint program has its fair share of challenges, said the official in charge of the program during her talk at the 2014 Remodeling Leadership Conference. Since its launch four years ago, difficulties with test kits, a lack of funding, and where responsibility lies have impeded the lead-paint rule's overall progress.

Despite the obstacles, Tanya Hodge Mottley, director of the National Program Chemicals Division at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the program is an overall success. To date, more than 135,000 renovation firms and roughly 493,000 individuals have been certified to engage in lead-safe practices when working on homes where the possibility of lead paint exists.

But there's plenty of ground to gain. “There’s still a problem,” said Mottley. “Despite the progress … the blood lead levels persist.” The EPA estimates that more than 30 million homes harbor lead paint, but due to funding issues, it's been difficult to educate remodelers on the nuances of the lead-paint rule. “We struggle a little bit in the EPA with very little resources,” said Mottley.

And don't think the $500,000 civil penalty paid by Lowe’s Home Centers to settle allegations that contractors it hired for home projects violated the lead-paint rule will help much with the funding shortage. That money, Mottley said , goes right into the U.S. Treasury Department's coffers.

Another challenge has been lead test kits, which are notorious for false positive readings. “No company’s test kit has met the criteria as was outlined in the [lead-paint] rule in 2008,” said Mottley. “We’re unaware of any test kit … that would meet the positive criteria.”

One way to circumvent faulty test kits is to just assume lead paint exists in any home built before 1978. "The older the home, the more likely it is to contain lead paint," said Mottley. In a home built between 1960 and 1978, the EPA estimates a 24 percent risk of finding lead paint. Before 1960, that risk climbs to 69 percent, and before 1940, the risk lies at 87 percent. By assuming lead paint exists, a contractor avoids having to use test kits or hiring an inspector.

But homeowners have little incentive to hire a certified–and more expensive–remodeler in the first place. And if a homeowner decides to do their own renovations, the lead-paint rule can be ignored completely. "Our rule does not prohibit homeowners from doing their own work," said Mottley. "But they could potentially be poisoning their young children, their pets," and the EPA wants them to know that.

To educate the public, the EPA will launch the "Look for the Logo" campaign to encourage homeowners to use certified renovation firms. In an interview with REMODELING earlier in April, Mottley said that campaign will target groups of people who have or watch over small children, such as day-care centers and parent organizations.

So, What’s Next?

Mottley said her office is focusing on four areas for 2014 and beyond:

  • It's getting ready for recertifications, which begin in 2015. Remodelers will be able to apply for recertification online, and EPA is planning to have refresher course training online as well. “We are looking into the possibility of removing the requirement for hands-on training as part of the refresher training,” she added. If that is the course, EPA will send out a proposal later this year to get feedback on the idea.
  • EPA plans to roll out a public education campaign called “Look for the Logo” encouraging homeowners to use certified renovation firms. The campaign will target groups of people who have or watch over small children, such as day-care centers and parent organizations, Mottley said.
  • The agency is encouraging local permit-issuing agencies to require proof of RRP certification prior to granting building permits for regulated work in homes built before 1978.
  • Emission standard limits and certain restrictions on furniture that has formaldehyde in its adhesives. "If it has formaldehyde in it, we want to make sure it’s not being sold to the consumer," Mottley said.