Representatives from remodeling groups and industry associations hammered the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) today over its plans to extend the lead-paint rule to public and commercial buildings.

Speakers for NAHB Remodelers and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry ( NARI) both stressed real-world concerns during a hearing on the agency's proposed rule. Their fears were amplified by assertions from other groups that the EPA lacks the documentation as well as the need to expand its intensely debated lead Renovation, Repair and Painting ( RRP) rule.

"How do I take scores of cubic yards of debris eight stories down in a 5x6x7 common elevator, down a 30-foot common hallway, down a ramp to the alley, and 90 feet up the alley to an enclosed truck without contaminating everything in sight along the way?" asked Mike Nagel, a Chicago-based remodeler and 2007 chairman of the NAHB Remodelers council, in prepared comments for the hearing. "I don't, at least not in a manner that is economically feasible."

David Merrick of Kensington, Md., past chair of NARI's government affairs committee, told EPA officials that they must pay attention to the many different work practices used to renovate public and commercial buildings. The EPA also should avoid unnecessary duplication with existing regulations, particularly those from OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he added.

Commercial Standard Also Contentious

The RRP rule, which took effect in April 2010, seeks to protect contractors and individuals from health dangers that arise from exposure to dust from lead paint. The rule requires that tests be conducted and safety procedures be followed when working in homes built before 1978  — the last year that use of lead paint in a home was allowed. From the start, construction contractors, window manufacturers, and building material dealers have condemned the measure as overly broad and burdensome.

The same law that led to the lead-paint rule for home renovations also requires actions to reduce exposure to lead-based paint hazards in public buildings constructed before 1978 and commercial buildings where lead-paint hazards could exist. Legal challenges brought by healthy homes advocates led to an August 2009 settlement that is being carried out in part by the EPA's commencement of work on a standard for commercial and public buildings. The latest version of the settlement requires it to either sign a proposed rule creating a public/commercial version of RRP by July 1, 2015, or determine at that date that renovation and repair activities don't cause a hazard in those buildings.

Duane Desiderio, vice president and counsel for The Real Estate Roundtable, made clear in his testimony that, in his group's view, the EPA hasn't proven that renovations in public and commercial buildings cause a lead-paint hazard. Desiderio summarized and essentially discarded 10 studies that the EPA has provided to a Senate committee as justification for believing there are hazards.

"Of all the studies that EPA cited to Congress in March and April of this year as relevant to possible lead hazards from renovations in public and commercial buildings, the only public and commercial buildings that were studied were (1) a school built in 1967, and (2) a one-story business well over 150 years old," Desiderio's testimony stated. "I would offer that this evidence would provide no rational basis for EPA to develop an RRP rule for public and commercial buildings."

Costs to Comply

The Window and Door Manufacturers Association ( WDMA) challenged the EPA's estimate of compliance costs for abiding with the current rule, arguing that real costs are three to five times higher than the agency thinks. It also noted that the EPA has yet to identify a test kit that fully meets the rule's standard. Having such a kit is vital because the lack of a reliable tester forces remodelers to assume that there is a lead hazard on every project, thus escalating repair costs needlessly.

"Based on the window manufacturing industry's experience with the residential rule, and EPA's flawed approach in implementing it, WDMA strongly encourages the agency to use sound data, and conduct extensive analysis, in determining the true compliance costs of a public and commercial rule," WDMA legislative affairs director Ben Gann said. "In addition, EPA shold stop relying on the unsound analysis it used to justify the residential rule as the basis for creating a similar rule for public and commercial buildings."

Both the NAHB and NARI representatives noted their groups favor restoring a provision in the rule that would let a homeowner opt out of the rule if he or she declares there are no pregnant women or children under age 6 living in the home. Restoring such a provision also would make life easier for all were the rule extended to public and commercial buildings, Nagel said.

"Unless work is being completed on a school or child care facility, the majority of projects that I work on will have no children or pregnant women present," he said. "In fact, most commercial facilities that I work on are not even occupied during the construction phase and never during the demo and initial cleanup phase. ... If the existing residential RRP were used to create a commercial RRP, the inclusion of the opt-out would potentially have significant economic impact on the contractor and his client."

A number of groups known to advocate the RRP  — and who helped play a role in removing the opt-out provision from the residential RRP's final rule  — argued that many public and commercial buildings are mixed-use properties that often include homes and places where children can be found. And lead-paint hazards can migrate from public and commercial buildings to adjacent buildings as well as to publicly accessible paths and sidewalks, Jane Malone of the National Center for Healthy Homes argued.

She also discounted suggestions that the EPA need only follow OSHA standards on this air-quality issue.  —Craig Webb is editor-in-chief of REMODELING. Follow him on Twitter at @craiglwebb.