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Lead licenses stir up contractors

By Joe Lanane

There is never a cost that can be placed on a life lost from lead poisoning, but there is a dollar figure attached to increased regulations placed on contractors.

Since April 22, Wisconsin home-renovation contractors have been legally required to attend state-mandated training courses before working on homes built before 1978. This follows an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that mandated measures to prevent lead-based contamination from homes built before lead paint was outlawed.

Wisconsin implemented its own state statute that essentially mimics the federal regulations. There are, however, subtle differences that have made Wisconsin much more stringent in its enforcement of the law.

This has come in the wake of a 2009 Wisconsin Supreme Court case, Godoy v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., in which judges determined a paint manufacturer could not be held liable for damage caused by its product. That contrasted a Mississippi court ruling that awarded $7 million to the family of a developmentally disabled teenager who suffered from lead-paint poisoning.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services differs from the federal regulation in its measurement of lead content. This requires contractors to preemptively hire a certified lead inspector because, lo and behold, there are no self-test kits recognized by Wisconsin.

The state guidelines also never adopted the federal EPA opt-out clause that allowed contractors to bypass extra lead cleanup efforts in pre-1978 homes where no pregnant women or children younger than 6 lived.

It will be interesting to see if that since-discontinued exemption returns, but it will have no impact on Wisconsin regardless.

Wisconsin already has a substantial percentage of its estimated 25,000 contractors in compliance with the new law, but it isn’t the companies that will suffer the brunt of the financial burden.

While these new safety regulations are well-intentioned, it will ultimately be the customers who endure the higher costs.

Joe Lanane is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. He doesn’t even use lead in his pencils.

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