NAHB Remodeling board chair Bill Shaw pressed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) acting administrator during a meeting last week to approve reliable kits to test for lead-paint dust and focus more on disciplining contractors who haven’t been certified for lead-paint removal than those who have, Shaw said today.

The Houston-based remodeler, in an interview with REMODELING, noted that he among the NAHB’s delegation spoke first to acting administrator Bob Perciasepe and six top EPA lieutenants when the group visited the agency for a half hour on June 6. Shaw and an NAHB staffer both said Perciasepe showed sympathy and understanding for the remodeler’s arguments but didn’t make any promises.

Remodelers’ critique of the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program (RRP) typically begins with gripes about the EPA’s removal from its final rule of a provision that would enable homeowners to opt out of RRP’s requirements if they attest that there are no pregnant women or children under age 6 living in the house. Shaw skipped that issue because legislation is pending in both houses of Congress to reinstate the opt-out.

Instead, Shaw focused first on the lack of an accurate test kit to detect the presence of lead dust, even though EPA promised such a kit would be available by September 2010, or roughly five months after RRP took effect. Because there’s no reliable test kit, remodelers have to assume there’s lead paint on just about any home they work in that was built before 1978 (the last year lead paint in homes was legal).

“[Perciasepe] was blindsided … clueless that we still didn’t have one that would work,” Shaw said. And when the acting administrator asked his staff in the room about progress on this issue, Shaw said staffers replied only that the agency was still working on developing an accurate tester.

Because of that lack of reliability, remodelers say they have to engage in a detailed and expense series of procedures to protect the home’s occupants and themselves from potential exposure to lead-paint dust. Those costs figure in the other point Shaw raised with Perciasepe: That homeowners, often suffering sticker-shock at the cost of RRP compliance, choose lower-price alternatives from what Shaw called an “underground market” of remodelers who ignore the law’s requirements that they take classes and get certified in lead-safe practices.

“I told him that in the Houston and Harris County area, with 4 million people, there were probably less than 5% [of all remodelers] abiding by the rule,” Shaw said. “[Perciasepe] didn’t like that at all. He asked why. I said there was no consumer outreach and with your enforcement, you’re picking on those who are certified.”

Shaw said Perciasepe demurred on that claim, apparently citing recent EPA news releases regarding sanctions against uncertified remodelers. But Shaw told REMODELING that he thinks the administrator “is taking one or two national busts to prove his point when in reality they’re taking the low-hanging fruit that are contractors that are certified.”

Shaw did give Perciasepe credit for having a wide-ranging knowledge of EPA activities. “I will say there wasn’t a topic we broached that he wasn’t aware of and was opinionated about how he answered—except for the lead rule,” Shaw said.


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