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New EPA rules affect contractors

By Hafez Daraee
Dolan Media Newswires

Portland, Ore. — Exposure to lead-based paint is harmful to everyone, especially children. Before the 1978 ban, harmful lead-based paints were used in more than 38 million homes across the country.

In response to the magnitude of this problem, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008 updated its rules to prevent poisoning from lead-based paint. These new rules immediately changed the certification requirement for businesses providing abatement services. This year, EPA’s revised rules will directly affect contractors.

Beginning in April, federal law will require contractors performing renovation, repair or painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child-care facilities or schools built before 1978 to be certified and to follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.

These new federal laws will apply if the project affects more than 6 square feet of interior space or more than 20 square feet of exterior space. The EPA wants to target homes, schools and commercial buildings where children are present.

Most of the EPA’s rules on lead-based paint focus on work-site practices. For example:

1. Abatement services can be performed only by certified firms that employ certified employees.

2. For interior work
* Items within the work space must be removed or covered with impervious material and sealed to eliminate contamination.
* Ducts and other heating/ventilating openings must be sealed with impervious coverings.
* Rugs and other floor coverings must be sealed with impervious coverings.

3. For exterior work
* Dust from the work area must be contained.
* Ground areas within the work site must be covered by impervious material.
* High-speed equipment such as sanders and grinders can be used only if all exhaust air passes through an HEPA filter first.;
* Heat or flame cannot be used to remove lead-based paint.

The EPA’s rules, however, do not apply if
* The facility has been inspected by a certified inspector who has determined that the lead content present does not exceed EPA guidelines.
* The facility has been tested using an EPA-certified test kit and the tests indicate that the lead present does not exceed EPA guidelines.
* Or if an emergency (very narrowly defined by the rules) exists.

Because lead is presumed to be present if the structure was built before 1978, it is up to contractors working on older buildings to satisfy the EPA requirements or claim one of the three exemptions. Otherwise, contractors may be subject to agency action and civil penalties of up to $25,000 per incident.

The new EPA-certification requirements are added to the state licensing requirements. If a contractor’s business includes renovation or remodeling of older homes and commercial buildings, it should take immediate steps to become EPA-certified.

Hafez Daraee is an attorney in Jordan Schrader Ramis’ Dirt Law and business-law practice groups.


  1. Your information regarding the RRP Rule contains a number of factual errors.

    The Rule taking effect in April does not cover or include anything to do with lead abatement.

    There are a number of other errors and omissions within this article. For detailed information I recommend visiting the EPA’s website (

    In addition, there are a number of discussions within various contractor forums, including these:

  2. Not to put too fine a point on this – but if you were a lawyer going into court with your understanding of the law as stated, you would lose. There is a huge difference between an abatement contractor & the new regulations affecting not only contractors, but sub-contractors, and homeowners that own rental properties that they work on.

    Beyond the links Mr. Wright listed above may I also suggest you look at the following articles: — EPA Lead notice requirements for houses built before 1978 (Already in place) — A quick primer for Home Owners, Rental Owners, and Contractor’s regarding Renovation’s of pre-1978 houses — The Process of Remodeling a pre 1978 house — LEAD FAQ’s – To Test or Not to Test – that is the question

  3. I can see homes being burned to avoid the expense of these rules.

    I can see black-market unqualified contractors evading these rules and undercutting the prices charged by legitimate contractors.

    The contamination caught by the impervious covers is to be carefully sealed and disposed of in the regular garbage collection. Smart move – the dumps will be greater health hazards than they are now.

    These rules were clearly contrived by people who have no knowledge of construction.

    Welcome to the Nanny state.

  4. I think the new EPA rules are for the best. Contractors and emergency restoration companies need to start taking precautions when working with materials that contain lead and asbestos. If it means a few heavy fines then that’s what it must take…

  5. We’ve been in business for over 30 years and Chicago painters have been waiting for new EPA certification requirements to make the job safer for us and our clients. Good stuff. We’re excited about these changes and are looking for more in the future to keep harmful elements out of our jobs as Chicago General Contractors as well. Great article.

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