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Lead paint enforcement faces broad canvas (AUDIO)

By Sean Ryan

A contractor who intends to comply with new lead paint standards worries the state lacks the manpower to enforce the rules.

If Robert Kuehl, president of All About Windows & Siding Inc., West Allis, follows the rules and his competitors don’t, he said, he could lose work because compliance costs money. If he has to spend more, he has to charge customers more, Kuehl said.

“It needs federal funding down to the local level,” he said, “to make sure there’s building inspectors and trained officials to enforce the rule.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which will begin enforcing the new lead-safe rules April 22, will have up to 11 people split between offices in Eau Claire and Madison and inspecting projects throughout the state, said Shelley Bruce, DHS asbestos and lead certification supervisor. The rules are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and apply to projects on houses, schools and apartments built before 1978.

LISTEN TO SHELLEY BRUCE, FROM THE WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES, AS SHE ANSWERS CONTRACTORS’ QUESTIONS DURING A MEETING ON LEAD PAINT RULES

Unlike on projects involving asbestos, contractors are not required to notify the state when they are working with lead paint, she said.

“Our strategy basically will be tips and complaints from people,” she said, “and probably just who we see out and about when we’re out working and doing inspections.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, by comparison, has 36 full-time compliance employees in Wisconsin conducting safety and health inspections of employers from all industries.

To follow the new lead paint rules, contractors must get new insurance that can cost as much as $2,500, gain state certification, train workers and buy new equipment, such as respirators, to prevent exposure to flaked paint and lead dust during projects.

“No. 1, we want to encourage compliance on the front end,” Bruce said. “Yes, there will be enforcement, and there are some things that drive people to comply, and one of them is doing the right thing themselves.”

Bruce said she is encouraging contractors to call the department if they see competitors not following the rules. Anonymous tips are accepted, she said.

“We will do the best we can to respond when they give us tips and complaints,” Bruce said, “and will follow up to the best of our ability.”

Kuehl said he is not sure the state can respond to complaints quickly enough because housing projects, such as window replacement, do not take long to complete. The rules apply to any job that disturbs more than 6 square feet of lead paint in a single room or 20 square feet of lead paint on an exterior project.

“By the time they get there, the job is all done and cleaned up,” he said, “it’s unenforceable.”

Bruce said she also is trying to build relationships with municipal building inspectors.

One idea under consideration, she said, is to require contractors provide proof of their state lead certification to get a building permit. DHS will welcome tips from municipal building inspectors, Bruce said, but is not including the inspectors in a formal program because only DHS has enforcement authority, she said.

“We’re working on a relationship with the building inspectors,” she said, “and we’re hoping we can find ways to cooperate.”

DHS has held 18 lead paint training sessions since January to notify contractors of the new rules. The sessions detail health problems such as learning disabilities, hearing loss and lower IQs for children who inhale or ingest lead paint.

Kuehl, who was the last contractor to leave Wednesday’s training session, said compliance is important, both from a health and competitive perspective.

“I want to do it by the book,” he said, “but I don’t want to lose jobs because some guy can’t do it.”

One comment

  1. As important as the Lead Paint Rules are, many contractors were not notified of the new rules. Ignorance of the law is no excuse? Bah humbug! The feds and state have created so many new rules that I personally believe they are trying to put the small (1-20) contractor out of business. We are already on our own with insurance, healthcare, and many other business expenses that larger companies, by shear numbers, can easily handle. In fact, the big companies are “too big to fail!”
    The organizations that “look out” for the little guy are cash strapped because of the economy.
    Now we are being forced to become Lead Certified. Unless there is uniform enforcement, legitimate contractors will again lose jobs for doing the right thing.
    Enforcement will be done by tips? By the time a tip can be sent in, the job will be done, the offending contractor will be gone.
    The fines? EPA $32,500 per day per offense. Wisconsin $1,000 per day per offense.
    Another ridiculous law shoved down the small business contractor’s throat and wallet.

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