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Prompted in part by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clarified today how its lead-paint rule applies to whole-house rehabilitation jobs and in disaster situations.

"As a result of the new clarification, especially regarding the record-keeping requirements, renovators impacted by massive disasters need not worry how to record the activities related to those jobs in their files," NAHB said in a blog post. "This is key should their files ever be audited by the agency."

The clarifications were posted in the "frequent questions" section of EPA's web pages devoted to the Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule. The rule requires that when remodelers are working in houses built before 1978 on projects that could disturb lead paint, they must determine whether any lead paint is present and--if they do find presence of the paint or didn't do a test--must then use certain practices to contain the spread of the lead paint dust while they perform the remodel. The company doing the work and the renovators following lead-safe work practices both must be certified by EPA-approved training programs.

Lead has been found to be a health hazard, particularly for children and seniors. The use of lead paint in homes has been banned since 1978.

Many of EPA's penalties involving alleged RRP violations involved failures to keep proper records. To that end, NAHB asked how the rules apply during disasters, such as last year's flooding in Texas.

EPA replied:

Emergency renovations (other than interim controls performed in response to a child with an elevated blood lead level) are exempt from the training, certification, sign posting, waste handling and containment requirements of the RRP Rule only to the extent necessary to respond to the emergency. Firms must nonetheless comply with the cleaning requirements (performed by certified renovators and trained workers), cleaning verification (performed by certified renovators), and record keeping requirements of the RRP Rule.

EPA added that "if the renovation firm was unable to comply with all of the requirements of the RRP Rule due to an emergency, the firm must document the nature of the emergency and the provisions of the rule that were not followed, in addition to the other rule provisions that must be documented for an emergency renovation."

In its other Q-and-A response, EPA said it has taken a limited view to what constitutes a "gut rehabilitation," saying it covers "only those activities that demolish and rebuild a structure to a point where it is effectively new construction. At a minimum, these activities include the removal and replacement of all interior and exterior painted surfaces, including windows."

EPA then added:

If an activity meets these narrow criteria (i.e., if a firm demolishes and rebuilds a structure to the extent that it is effectively new construction), then the activity is not a renovation for purposes of the RRP Rule and therefore not subject to any RRP requirements.