Tanya Hodge Mottley, EPA
Dupont Photographers

Four years since its launch, the federal government’s lead-paint program has “a good foundation in place” and anecdotal evidence that it has helped reduce cases of lead poisoning in children, the official in charge of the program says.

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, Tanya Hodge Mottley, director of the National Program Chemicals Division at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said in an exclusive interview. There are roughly 600 certified trainers, she added.

Many remodelers have focused on the roughly 70 enforcement actions EPA has taken involving alleged violations of the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule since it took effect in April 2010. The day before Mottley met with REMODELING on April 18, the EPA and Justice Department announced Lowe’s Home Centers will pay a record $500,000 civil penalty to settle allegations that contractors it hired for home projects violated the lead-paint rule. And days earlier, EPA’s Boston office announced that four New England firms will pay penalties ranging from $2,200 to $30,000 to RRP-related allegations. There also was the agency announcement it was sending letters to 200 home renovation and painting contractors in Connecticut about a planned "compliance assistance and enforcement initiative."

‘Workable’ Requirements

“I am pleased with the state of implementation of the lead RRP rule thus far, and at the same time, I think there is much that can be done to make it more successful–both by EPA and by the contracting community,” Mottley said. “We have a good foundation in place and we continue to look for ways to grow and improve the program. Generally, the requirements that we’ve put in place have proved to be workable, and our internal processes have matured.”

The lead-paint rule was issued because the presence of lead paint—commonly used in homes until it was banned in 1978—has been linked to brain damage and other harmful health effects, particularly in pregnant women, small children, and the elderly. RRP requires that anyone working on a project in a house built before 1978 must test for the presence of lead-paint. If it’s found or there’s a chance it is present, the renovator then must take certain steps to protect the home’s occupants and themselves from disturbing and spreading lead-paint dust.

Asked for statistics regarding the rule’s possible benefits, Mottley replied, “I don’t focus as much on the numbers as what [the rule] is designed to do.” Rather, the woman who has overseen the RRP program since last October said she finds her evidence in reports from cities like Providence, R.I., which begun in 2012 to require contractors be certified in lead-safe practices before it issues building permits involving homes built before 1978. Probably as a result, the number of children in Providence with elevated blood lead levels dropped by 24% between to 2012 and 2013, from 530 cases down to 402, a state agency announced March 17 In addition, Providence's Housing Court created a lead court docket to prosecute property owners who fail to obtain lead-safe certificates for rental units. As of January 2014, the City Solicitor's Office has prosecuted 180 cases, the state announced.

What’s Next

Mottley said her office is focusing on three 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.

In addition, EPA intends in May to publish what’s called a Framework document regarding its current consideration over whether RRP should be extended to commercial projects. “We are continuing our analyses in this area to get a better handle on the effects of lead exposure from renovations in public and commercial buildings, which will help us determine the severity and breadth of this issue,” she said. “ We are very interested in feedback on how much lead dust is created during renovation activities, whether non-workers are present, and what they can do to minimize risks.” A proposal regarding RRP in commercial structures is due by July 2015, and EPA is on track to issue something by then, she said.

Mottley is one of the featured speakers at REMODELING magazine's Remodeling Leadership Conference on May 7-9 in Alexandria, Va. Details are at http://www.remodelingconf.com