Lead Paint: The EPA’s New Rule

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The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, issued in 2008, was to take formal (enforceable) effect on April 22, 2010. However, due to difficulties with compliance, the EPA has extended this deadline to December 30, 2010.

This rule mandates a number of specific practices for contractors to mitigate the health hazards associated with disturbance of lead-based painted surfaces in homes, child care facilities, and schools constructed prior to 1978.1 Under this rule, all contractors in the U.S. conducting work on lead-based painted surfaces are required to be EPA certified and to follow specified work practices for preparation, clean-up, and record keeping. Painters, plumbers, electrical workers, general contractors, and a miscellany of other service providers will be affected. The rule applies to the disturbance of lead-based painted interior surfaces of six or more square feet and exterior surfaces of 20 square feet or more. Guidelines are also provided for window replacement and demolition in such facilities and homes. Under the statute, contractors not in compliance could be fined as much as $37,500 a day.2


Despite the two-year gap between the issuing of the lead-based paint rule and the full implementation of that rule, there has been a widespread perception that many contractors and property owners have been facing insurmountable difficulties in meeting the deadline.3

On April 6, just prior to the initial enforcement deadline, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) petitioned EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, to delay full implementation. Among the problems noted by the NAHB was the claim that as of April 22, there would not be enough certified firms to handle the nation’s typical contracting workload. The NAHB also maintained the EPA had not accredited nearly enough trainers to provide certification for the millions of workers requiring such training nationwide. In the petition, NAHB stated that “despite the combined efforts of EPA, NAHB, and other stakeholders, the number of certified renovators remains well below what is required to achieve an acceptable level of compliance.” Finally, the NAHB petition asserted the commercial lead-paint test kits available at the time of the implementation deadline had highly variable accuracy.4 Other contractor trade organizations as well as political figures like Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) also weighed in on the controversy.5

On June 18, 2010, in response to what was an increasingly confusing, volatile regulatory scenario and a fractious political situation, the EPA extended several deadlines for components of the lead-based paint rule. The deadline for registration for the certification requirement was delayed until October 1, 2010. In addition, the EPA plans to provide additional opportunities for certification training, and has extended the final enforcement deadline to December 30, 2010.6

Historically, lead was one of the first metals to be systematically mined due to the availability of common ores, the ease of extraction and working of the metal, and the durability of finished lead products. The ancient Romans used lead in piping to such an extent that the word plumbing is derived from the Latin word for lead (plumbum). The Romans were also among the first to observe lead poisoning in association with their lead smelters and foundries. But despite the long history of lead as a recognized industrial and health hazard, only recently did medical science declare that no true safe threshold for lead exposure exists.7 This acknowledgement resulted in the strict curtailment of, and in some cases the elimination of, lead and lead compounds in such products as buckshot, water pipes, pesticides, solder, and anti-knock additives in gasoline.8

The use of lead-based paint was banned in new housing, as well as in furniture and toys, in the United States in 1977. Although the dangers of lead poisoning have been well documented in adults, studies show that lead-based paint presents a particular concern for pregnant women and children under six years of age. Compared to adults, children absorb a relatively greater percentage of a given amount of ingested lead (published figures show a ratio of 50% for children to 15% for adults). In addition, the developing nervous systems of children are much more vulnerable to lead than the relatively stable nervous systems of adults. In children, lead poisoning can cause irreversible nerve/brain damage, and can an also impede fetal development when a pregnant woman is exposed. Inhalation and ingestion of dust and chips from lead-based paint have proved to be a major source of lead poisoning in children.9

The accumulated knowledge of this vulnerability is what led to the development of the Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. Even opponents of the rule concede this vulnerability exists and is a real concern. Still, opponents such as the NAHB have maintained that the delay in the implementation of the new rule is warranted and contractors should not be penalized “because of the EPA’s failure to plan.”10

According to NAHB Environmental Policy Analyst Matt Watkins, the NAHB appears unlikely to pursue further delays in the enforcement timetable at this time.11 However, on July 8, the NAHB joined with the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association to file suit against the EPA for removing what is known as the “opt-out provision” in the rule. This provision, which expired on July 6, permitted contractors – with consumer consent – to forego the extra containment, clean-up, and recordkeeping requirements mandated by the rule in homes or facilities not occupied by children under 6 or pregnant women. The suit maintains the EPA dropped the opt-out provision without scientific data showing such extra protection is warranted.12

Other developments in this unpredictable state of affairs may be likely, because of the election year and the sluggish economy.


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil. Renovation, Repair and Paint Rule. Updated July 29, 2010. http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/renovation.htm
  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Small Entity Compliance Guide to Renovate Right: EPA’s Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Paint Rule. April, 2010. http://www.epa.gov/oppt/lead/pubs/sbcomplianceguide.pdf
  3. Window & Door. Protest Against EPA Lead Rules Planned for Washington. April, 2010. http://www.windowanddoor.com/news-item/organizations/protest-against-epa-lead-rules-planned-washington
  4. National Association of Home Builders. NAHB Petitions EPA to Delay Lead-Paint Work. April 6, 2010. http://www.nahb.org/news_details.aspx?newsID=10561
  5. Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) Press Release, May 28, 2010. http://inhofe.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressRoom.PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=dfb9155d-802a-23ad-4b3d-c9a695694fdf
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Frequent Questions on EPA’s June 18, 2010 Implementation Guidance for the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule. http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/lead/pubs/rrp-ques-answer.pdf
  7. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Center for Disease Control. Toxicological Profile for Lead. August, 2007. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp13.pdf
  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Lead Poisoning: A Historical Perspective. Updated on August 12, 2009. http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/perspect/lead.htm
  9. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Center for Disease Control. ToxGuide™ for Lead, October, 2007. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxguides/toxguide-13.pdf?id=95&tid=22
  10. National Association of Home Builders. NAHB Petitions EPA to Delay Lead-Paint Work Regulations Until Agency Can Show Capacity. April 6, 2010. http://www.nahb.org/news_details.aspx?newsID=10561
  11. Telephone interview. July 22, 2010. Matt Watkins, National Association of Home Builders.
  12. National Association of Home Builders. NAHB to Sue EPA Over Lead Paint Regulations. July 8, 2010. http://www.nahb.org/news_details.aspx?newsID=11026

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