Mark Robert Halper

This month the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule goes into effect. We’ve put together a pretty solid package of information to help remodelers understand what the rule is about and how it could affect their businesses. But I’ve been following some online discussions about the rule, and there is a lot of misinformation out there. I’m not the final word on the RRP rule, but after taking the RRP training, reading the manual, and talking with remodelers, I think I can calm some of the hysteria. The April 22, 2010, deadline will not be postponed. I hope I’m wrong because I think the EPA has badly miscalculated the number of companies that need to be trained. But the history of RRP has me convinced that hoping the EPA will postpone the deadline is just another form of denial.

Under the terms of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1992, the original deadline for the EPA to regulate lead paint–related remodeling activities was Oct. 28, 1996. The EPA missed that deadline, but avoided legal action by continuing to work on regulations. That changed in 2004 when the EPA scrapped the regulatory approach in favor of a voluntary program. It then changed again in early 2005, when the EPA dropped it altogether, prompting a lawsuit by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and more than a dozen public health organizations. The April 22, 2010, deadline came out of the January 2008, settlement of that lawsuit. It seems unlikely that the EPA will jeopardize that agreement by delaying a deadline that it has already avoided for 14 years.

The RRP rule will raise costs 5% to 15%. The EPA didn’t help its PR campaign when it announced that increased cost for extra work required by RRP would average about $35. The poly alone costs that much. While costs will vary depending on the work and a company’s current dust-protection practices, we estimate an increase of $500 to $1,200 or more to the price of a typical $15,000 bathroom job.

The rule doesn’t apply to every job. You might be getting all worked up for nothing if you work on homes that are less than 30 years old. Some companies have even decided to limit their work to homes built after 1978, a perfectly legitimate way to go in some markets. Plus, a lot of pre-1978 homes have already been remodeled once, so the nasty lead-painted plaster and moldings may have already been replaced. If you test and find no lead, the RRP rule doesn’t apply. (That doesn’t mean the previous remodeling project didn’t contaminate the house, but that liability has always been there.)

The RRP rule affects mostly demolition work. Even when the job tests positive for lead, most companies will be affected only through the demolition stage (window replacement specialists are one significant exception). Once all the old material is removed and you’ve passed the cleaning test, you’re done with RRP-required practices.

The RRP rule also protects you and your employees. This aspect of the rule hasn’t come up much in discussion among remodelers, but this is what the paper suits and respirators are for. A lot of the lead poisoning occurs in the children of workers who bring lead dust home on their clothes, in their hair, and on their hands. And some of the workers themselves have elevated lead levels.

Enforcement will be spotty. I’m a bit of a contrarian on this one. Lots of remodelers think the EPA will slap a big fine on somebody as soon as possible just to prove they’re serious. That may well happen, but the fact is that compliance will be monitored locally, and most states and municipalities don’t have the budget or personnel to police compliance with RRP. That’s not an excuse to flout the law, but it does provide some wiggle room. Work may come screeching to a halt in some places, but until everybody is certified, those who aren’t can hire those who are to handle the demolition.

We shouldn’t need an RRP rule. Dust is among the top three consumer complaints every year. So why haven’t you already changed your practices to eliminate it? To those who have, the RRP rule may require a few tweaks to what they are already doing. To those who haven’t, it’s time to change the status quo before somebody changes it for you. And I don’t mean the EPA.