HVAC Contractors Impacted by New EPA Lead Paint Ruling

June 28, 2010
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Ads such as this one urge contractors to become Lead-Safe Certified.


According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 1 million children in the United States are affected by lead paint poisoning. In an effort to preserve the health of children and others who may come into contact with lead paint, the EPA issued the Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule, which requires contractors to become certified in lead-safe practices for certain types of work.

The government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978, so the new RRP rule is targeted at contractors working in facilities built before 1978. The rule specifically regulates work performed in pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities, which include schools and daycare centers.

The RRP, which took effect April 22, stipulates that firms working in pre-1978 homes and child-occupied facilities that disturb more than six square feet of painted surface area must be EPA certified and use lead-safe working practices. Contractors who violate the RRP rule may face up to $37,500 in fines.

However, in response to concerns raised by contractors about the difficulty of obtaining training, EPA issued a memo stating that it will not take enforcement action for violations of the rule’s firm certification requirement until Oct. 1. According to the memo, contractors must enroll in a training course by Sept. 30 and complete it by Dec. 31.

The RRP specifically notes that heating and air conditioning contractors may be affected by this regulation, but makes a distinction between renovation (which is regulated) and minor maintenance and repair activities (which are not regulated).

According to the RRP, minor maintenance and repair “are activities, including minor heating, ventilation, or air conditioning work, electrical work, and plumbing, that disrupt 6 square feet or less of painted surface per room for interior activities or 20 square feet or less of painted surface for exterior activities … and where the work does not involve window replacement or demolition of painted surface areas.”

According to the EPA, individuals may be certified after receiving eight hours of training from an EPA-authorized training provider. This training is good for five years.

Firms may be certified by the EPA or by a state authorized by the EPA to administer its own program. Current states with their own programs include Wisconsin, Iowa, North Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas, Rhode Island, Utah, and Oregon.

Firms seeking EPA certification must submit a two-page application and pay a fee of $300; this certification is also good for five years.

CERTIFIED HVAC CONTRACTORS

According to Bobby Ring, owner of Meyer and DePew Inc. Co., a heating and cooling contractor in Kenilworth, N.J., “We don’t foresee that many jobs where we will be faced with more than six feet of disturbed area in a single room.” However, Ring chose to be trained for RRP, and also had 15 of his employees trained. “I wanted all of them to be aware of the rules and be able to identify jobs that fall under the new rules,” he said.

Laurie Schumann, owner of Comfort Central Inc. in Pisgah Forest, N.C., went through two years’ worth of files to see how many of her company’s projects would have fallen under the RRP rule. “We found we had a small handful of jobs - less than 10 percent - that would have qualified for the ruling,” she said. So Schumann decided to become certified as an individual for RRP, and then train the rest of her staff as noncertified workers to apply for firm certification. “It was most expedient to do it this way,” she said, adding that she received the training in April.

“In talking to people in the industry, there’s been some confusion here and there,” Schumann said. “I really appreciated learning this from a training provider who does this for a living.”

When Schuman returned from her training, she trained all of her employees using the EPA booklet “Steps to Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting.”

“We had an open discussion on how we were going to do things. We spent two hours going through the steps program, and then spent two more hours discussing our regular operating procedures to see how we could incorporate [lead-safe practices] more everyday,” she said. “It was actually very good for awareness.”

According to Schumann, as the certified person, she must be onsite during the set-up and clean-up phases of a RRP job, and available by phone to return to the project at any time. She added, “As with all programs, with knowledge comes responsibility.”

RRP REQUIREMENTS

The lead-safe practices required by the RRP, which include a strong emphasis on containment and cleaning, have been compared to the practices required for mold remediation. There are also stringent requirements for the documentation needed for RRP projects.

According to the EPA’s booklet, there are seven basic steps required to comply with RRP: (1) determine if the job involves lead-based paint, (2) set it up safely, (3) protect yourself, (4) minimize the dust, (5) leave the work area clean, (6) control the waste, and (7) verify work completion with the cleaning verification procedure or clearance.

One aspect of the regulations requires the contractor to educate the owners or residents about the risks associated with lead-based paint and provide them with a copy of the EPA’s “Renovate Right” pamphlet.

The EPA also published an amendment to the RRP rule on May 6 with several revisions that go into effect on July 6. According to the revision published in the Federal Register, the EPA is eliminating an “opt-out” provision that currently exempts a firm from the training and work practice requirements of the rule if the firm has obtained certification from the homeowner that no child under age 6 or pregnant women reside in the home.

The amendment also requires firms to provide a copy of the records demonstrating compliance with the training and work practice requirements of the RRP rule to the owner and, if different, the occupant of the building being renovated or the operator of the child-occupied facility.

IMPLEMENTATION COSTS

Because of the work practice requirements of RRP, Ring said, “We certainly will need to charge significantly more for jobs that will require compliance with the new rules.”

Schumann added that her firm is still trying to estimate costs for RRP jobs, and she anticipates an increased labor cost. However, her crews are practicing how to comply with RRP regulations so that they will be able to efficiently perform these types of jobs in the future.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/lead.

Sidebar: A Health Hazard

Paint that contains lead can pose a health threat through various routes of exposure. House dust is the most common exposure pathway through which children are exposed to lead-based paint hazards. Dust created during normal lead-based paint wear (especially around windows and doors) can create an invisible film over surfaces in a house.

Children, particularly younger children, are at risk for high exposures of lead-based paint dust via hand-to-mouth exposure, and may also ingest lead-based paint chips from flaking paint on walls, windows, and doors.

Lead from exterior house paint can flake off or leach into the soil around the outside of a home, contaminating children’s play areas.

Cleaning and renovation activities may actually increase the threat of lead-based paint exposure by dispersing lead dust particles in the air and over accessible household surfaces.

In turn, both adults and children can receive hazardous exposures by inhaling the dust or by ingesting lead-based paint dust during hand-to-mouth activities.

Source: EPA, www.epa.gov

Publication date: 06/28/2010

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