October 26, 2006

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Proposed Rule for Renovation, Repair, and Painting Workers

Key materials
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Highlights 

The Regulation

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed certification requirements and prescribed certain work practices for workers conducting renovation, repair, and painting (RRP) work. The regulation is intended as a means of reducing the number of children with elevated blood-lead levels (EBLs) believed caused by exposure to dust from lead-based paint disturbed by RRP work.

Our Findings

The proposed certification and training requirements may have unintended effects that EPA's analysis do not consider:

  • When faced with higher costs of RRP work, younger couples with children and less disposable income are more likely to conduct RRP work themselves, thus increasing the risk of exposing their children to lead-contaminated dust.
  • The leading causes of EBLs are the direct ingestion of leaded paint chips and prolonged exposure to dust from deteriorating lead-based paint. Increases in the cost of professional RRP work could prolong or delay these conditions and unnecessarily increase the number of children with EBLs.
  • The proposed rules could also negatively affect the nation's stock of low-income housing, as landlords either choose to tear down units, refuse to renovate, or recoup their renovation costs by renovating to attract more affluent tenants.
  • Elevated blood-lead levels are a rapidly declining problem amongst American children.  In 1991, an estimated 4.5 million children possessed blood-lead levels above the Center for Disease Control's "level of concern" of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dL).  By 2002, this number had fallen to 310,000 - a decline of roughly 93 percent - and continues to fall further.
  • Although cited as evidence of a link between RRP work and EBLs, EPA's studies show no such statistically significant link. Workers engaged in remodeling and renovation activity in older buildings did not show statistically significant increases in rates of elevated blood-lead levels. Moreover, the purported link between RRP work and EBLs in children evaporated once the study adjusted for confounding variables known to influence blood-lead.
  • Lead-based problems and growth rates in RRP work are not uniform throughout the country, which suggests that EBLs are better tackled at the state and local level.

By the Numbers

  • Homeowners and landlords spent $233 billion on remodeling in 2003.
  • Industry experts estimate that the proposed rules could raise the cost of renovation, repair, and painting work by between 20 to 30 percent.
  • EPA estimates 90 percent of the rule's cost will be passed to consumers.

Recommendations

  • Although EPA is bound by statute to create the certification program, studies have shown that workers need little in the way of training in order to minimize the risk of lead-contaminated dust created by RRP work. Accordingly, the certification program should be short, simple, and easy to complete with an emphasis on teaching workers what activities create the most dust, where the dust is most likely to be distributed, and stress the value of a thorough cleanup.
  • Evidence suggests that children do not owe their EBLs to RRP work but rather to the ingestion soil contaminated by decades of vehicles burning leaded gasoline and/or exterior lead-based paint flaking and leaching into the ground. It is important that parents be informed of these risks and of the effectiveness of simple remedial measures, such as the washing of hands and the wiping of feet.
  • EPA has based the projected costs of Phase 2 of its proposed rule on the assumption that cheap, reliable home lead-based paint testing kits will be available in the near future. EPA should delay implementation of Phase 2 until these kits are proved viable and become widely available.
  • As rates of RRP work and lead-based paint problems are not uniform throughout the country, EPA should consider a light regulatory hand at the federal level and recognize that states are in a better position to deal with EBL problems.