Taking the EPA Lead-Safe Certification Class
There are many questions that have come up about the new rules and laws regarding the way contractors must deal with lead-based paint. For some time now there have been handouts and brochures on the paint counters of all the local home improvement centers and paint stores that highlight the issues with lead-based paint. Additionally, these documents threaten huge fines if you are not compliant. Since lead-safe certification is now required as of April 22, 2010, there is a new urgency throughout the residential and commercial industries to become compliant. Both individuals and companies now have to become educated and certified in dealing with lead paint issues according to the EPA and HUD guidelines and rules.
To fully understand the program, problems and solutions, I decided to take a class that would give me my Certified Renovators certificate. The class I took was offered by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) in cooperation with a local contractor trade association. The first thing that is repeatedly drilled into you at the class is that this is a big deal and the federal government is serious about how lead paint gets handled. With the Lead-Based Paint, Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule, pretty much anyone who disturbs painted surfaces that might contain lead must follow certain prescribed procedures and safety measures to contain the work area, minimize dust and completely clean up when they are finished. This rule applies to nearly all contractors or anyone that does this type of work for some kind of compensation. If you work in any type of construction, whether it is electrical, mechanical, plumbing, renovations, painting, or maintenance; you probably will come into a situation where you will need to be certified. If you are in the business of just replacing windows and interior or exterior doors, then you too have to be certified. I know I might have left someone out, so if you are reading this and wondering if this applies to you, it probably does. The rule says that if you disturb more then six square feet of lead-based paint on the interior or twenty square feet on the exterior of a building that was built before 1978 and the building is a home, school, day care center or anywhere children under the age of six spend time or if there are pregnant women present, then you need to take notice and comply with the rule. No exceptions are allowed. Just to make sure they have your attention, the EPA is posing some pretty hefty fines to the tune of a maximum of $37,500 per violation, per day. This does not include any of the local or state fines that may be more or less depending on how the program is implemented in your specific area. So, if it is not the fear of fines, then it might be the possibility of lawsuits thanks to the new rules if you do not follow proper procedures when working with lead-based paint.
Since they had my attention or at least sparked my curiosity, I took this class to make sure I understand what industry professionals like us have to do to be compliant with the EPA and HUD rules. To make the certification process as easy as possible, the particular class I took was offered in two parts. The first portion was done on-line at my own pace and the second portion involved a half-day hands-on class with a written exam that needed to be passed in the end before I could become a Certified Renovator.
The online portion of the class took approximately 4 to 5 hours to complete. The classes are divided up into pretty easy to digest chapters that cover all the major aspects of the law, the EPA rules, HUD rules and all the other background and procedural things you would need to know. You will become an expert on all the acronyms and lingo that go with the business. At the end of each section, there are quick quizzes that you must pass before you are allowed to move on. There is a barrage of information that was a little confusing at times. Most of my confusion came from the fact that there is not complete agreement between the EPA and the HUD rules and depending on the situation, you must follow the more stringent guidelines or even a combination of both. At the successful completion of the online portion, a certificate is issued that states that Part One is completed which makes you then eligible for Part Two.
Part Two was the more fun day; I got to get up at 3AM so I could drive 4 hours to my nearest learning center for the hands-on class that was to last from 8AM to 12PM. Upon arriving at the learning center, we all sat down for some helpful presentations and some question and answer time with the instructors. Really all that the hands-on class did was reinforce all the critical aspects of the on-line class to make sure that it was drilled into our heads what we are supposed to do once we became Certified Renovators. There was a lot of discussion on the health problems associated with disturbing LBP (Lead-Based Paint) and how it seems to affect young children with sometimes life-long problems, hence why the rules that have to do with homes, schools and day-care facilities. I did find it rather ironic that over 30 years after the abolishing the use of Lead-Based paint that it now has apparently become such a huge issue. I wonder what ever happen to the hundreds of millions of people that grew up prior to 1978 when lead-based paint was used extensively?
A portion of the hands-on class was devoted to testing methods (or should we say the only method that a Certified Renovator is allowed to do) to detect if lead is present in the paint. Currently there is only one EPA approved testing method called Lead-Check and this particular product is manufactured by only one company. Any of the other the lead testing kits that might be available at your local home improvement or paint stores are not able to be used to test for lead since they are not EPA approved. According to our instructors, the best way to get the Lead-Check product is by mail order and at the time of my class, orders were running about 6 weeks behind. What is so interesting about the Lead-Check paint testing system is that while the manufacturer says it can be used on nearly any surface, the EPA rules prohibits it from being used to test for lead paint on drywall or plastered surfaces. If you need to preform test on these surfaces you either need to get another certification in other approved testing methods, send out samples to a lab or hire a separate lead testing company. Just in case you are not getting the picture here, you are forced into using a single brand and source for your test materials, and this test procedure is not approved for what would account for probably 85% of the surfaces that might have lead-based paint on them on a project.
There were discussions on how to properly set up a work site, how to contain the work area and how to minimize dust. Since I am in the renovation business, some of the topics in this area were pretty much best practice for us much in the same way we always try to minimize the spread and inhalation of demolition and drywall dust when we are working on a project. The biggest things to take from this is to minimize dust and to use a HEPA dust collection system as much as possible when using power tools. There are specific clean up procedures that are designed to minimizes contamination to other parts of the building and innocent bystanders that might be nearby. In as much as there are precautions to protect the inhabitants of the building, there were also discussions on protecting and training workers so that they understand the implications and proper safety procedures on the job site. It was actually a fun part of the hands-on class was when we broke down into teams and had to set up a proper work space, with proper containment methods that included protecting furniture, existing surfaces and HVAC openings. Each step of the way was supervised by an instructor to ensure that we did things according to the rules. To help make it a little easier, there are handy check lists and books that they handed out. Some parts of the procedures were a little overwhelming or tedious and it made it nice to be able to glance at the check list to make sure we were doing all the right things in the right order. When we were all done with the practical part of the class, they handed out the test that was made up of multiple choice questions. In order to pass the program, you had to score an 80% or better on the test.
Even though you become a Certified Renovator, the company that you either own or work for still cannot legally do lead paint related work until they become a Certified Firm. To become a Certified Firm, a company must first employ at least one Certified Renovator and then they must submit an application to the EPA along with a fee. Since each state can decide on if they want to fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA or under their own guidelines, then you might have to file some other paperwork and fees to your state as well. Just in case you missed it, every time you turn around, you will need to fill out a form and pay a fee. Oh yeah, and if you think can do all these forms and fees quickly to get certified, think again. Currently the EPA is quite a few months behind on processing applications.
As we went though our class, the question of enforcement came up. How is the EPA going to monitor jobs and how are they going to track if a job is being handled in the right way? Pretty much what was told to us is that the EPA does not have have the staff at this time to even begin effectively monitoring and checking work sites. Additionally, the particular state I took my class from does not have the budget money needed to fully implement or enforce the EPA rules. At this time, the only way you might be caught improperly doing work is if someone turns you in or if there is a future lawsuit that arises from the work that you did. For each job that you do once you are certified, you have to keep records of all aspects of the project including, who worked on the job, their experience level, what you did on the job, what paint was disturbed and what testing you did among other things. These records must be kept on the job site until the completion of the project and then you must keep the records for 5 years after the job. Strangely enough, we never did find out exactly what you have to do to get a $37,500 dollar fine.
Though the course of this class I did find it a little ironic that we are making a big deal about a problem that was put to bed over 30 years go. With the ridiculous amounts of money that have been invested into this program so far, it is ludicrous that it can not be fully or easily implemented because the logistics of testing, the lack of testing supplies and enforcement have not been figured out yet. Given the down economy combined with a dismal housing market, what we have here is yet another setback that will not help turn things around. In fact it would be a modest estimate so say that it will easily cost double to renovate a structure that has lead based paint issues per the new EPA and HUD rules. To add insult to injury, many of the homes and structures that have lead-based paint fall into the realm of low-income housing which means that ultimately the government will end up paying directly for the additional cost through their grants and programs which in the long run actually cost you and me. For more information about the EPA lead based paint renovation rules check out: