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Congress Finally Gets the Lead Out

For the first time in recent memory, our representatives in Washington seem to be heading in the right direction. Two representatives have introduced a bill that makes a great deal of sense. John Sullivan (R-OK) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) along with nine bipartisan co-sponsors, have introduced the Lead Exposure Reduction Amendment Act of 2012 (H.R. 5911). While the original EPA RRP Rules dealt mainly with renovation work there existed the possibility that the EPA would expand the rules to include commercial construction renovation work.

If you are not familiar with the RRP Rules, here is a little background. The rules took effect in April 2010. The main focus was directed at homes built prior to 1978 that could have been finished with lead paint. The purpose was to protect small children and pregnant women from potential lead exposure. It seemed at the time to be a very well intentioned set of rules. I participated in an introductory webinar conducted by EPA, and the rules did not seem to be that horrible or repressive. However, there were many missteps along the way to implementation. The original rules required hands-on training for labor and management. As it turned out, there weren’t enough training centers and qualified instructors to meet the demand. (By the way, there were some pretty stiff fines for not having trained and certified personnel on site.) It was a classic case of demand exceeding supply, which caused the EPA to extend the deadline for compliance.

The EPA originally stated that the additional cost incurred would be minimal and not add significant costs to a project. Add the costs of training personnel, along with testing, protection, PPE requirements and inspection by a third party inspector, and the costs added up to a significant figure. All this was required if you disturbed as little as 6 square feet of wall surface.

Lead abatement is nothing new to the industry. About 30 years ago there was a big push to recognize the dangers of lead paint. I attended a lead paint abatement seminar and received a certificate for the training. My memory, while not crystal clear, recalls that most of the surfaces talked about in the training revolved around doors and windows.

There were two primary culprits that provided the biggest potential for lead poisoning. The first was the residue products when window sashes were moved up and down; lead being a heavy metal would find its way to the floor, where small children could collect the residue on their hands. And where do children put their hands? Into their mouth, of course. Ingesting lead residue is not a good idea. This dispels the theory that children were eating paint chips that had fallen on the floor.

Others affected by lead paint were painters and helpers who were removing lead paint in preparation for repainting. This generally involved structures like bridges and other outdoor structures, and the common removal method at that time was burning off the paint using torches—a very effective method, but it also produced lead fumes. When working in confined spaces on hot days, the worker was exposed to some deadly conditions. Several deaths were recorded.

The other thought that occurred to me was the lack of lead in wall paint. While it is possible that some painting materials used on interior surfaces may have contained lead, I do not believe that most of these paint products used lead in the mixture. Interior paint used for trim work did contain lead. I recall using a high-gloss paint from the local paint store that contained lead. This particular product produced a beautiful finish almost akin to a spray-applied paint. This knowledge led me to believe that the EPA was working with some incorrect information when they wrote the rules for RRP, especially when it involved interior work.

I have no doubt that many products formulated for exterior use contained lead. Since the common method used for removal was with either a grinder or sander, I can certainly see the need for the use of proper abatement methods when performing this type of work on any structure where people might be exposed to the residue produced by the removal process.

So where do we go from here? This is an important piece of legislation, and it seems to have enough supporters to move it forward. I urge you to contact you representative and senator and ask them to support the Lead Exposure Reduction Amendment Act of 2012 (H.R. 5911) and the companion senate bill.

Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to [email protected], or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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