EPA to Rule on Removal of Lead-Based House Paint

Published October 1, 2006

Remodelers and contractors will face new, more restrictive federal guidelines for eliminating lead dust under a proposed EPA regulation due out this fall.

Some experts think the new standards are counterproductive and will prove extremely costly for small businesses and homeowners.

“Although the EPA’s desire to protect children in the removal of lead-based paint from homes is an extremely worthwhile initiative, the proposed process may prove to undermine the desired result,” because it will discourage homeowners and landlords from hiring professionals to do renovation work, said Dan Dressman, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky.

The stated purpose of EPA’s new rule is to reduce blood levels of lead in children. EPA is issuing the new regulation at a time when blood levels of lead are the lowest on record. Health researchers have seen a 93 percent decline of lead in the blood between 1991 and 2002.

EPA’s proposed rule would apply to houses constructed prior to 1978, when many were painted with lead-based paints.

Lead Removal Costly

Under EPA’s proposed rule, renovation companies would have to shoulder expensive costs for equipment to remove lead from old homes. Professional remodelers would be expected to undergo certification for training in lead abatement. Homeowners would be exempt from the rule.

According to Dressman, “registered remodelers affiliated with our organization will support the EPA training requirements on home renovation projects that they are involved in. However, this effort will provide little or no protection to children in homes where paint removal is completed by the homeowner.”

Allastair Walling, legal analyst with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said, “The new rules will increase the cost of renovation by 20 to 30 percent and do very little to lessen children’s exposure to lead.

“Homeowners,” Walling added, “will not hire expensive contractors and will opt to do more renovation themselves, thus needlessly exposing themselves to [lead] dust from renovation.”

Costs Underestimated

Walling cited an EPA estimate that 90 percent of the cost associated with the new rule would be passed on to consumers. Walling explained EPA based its calculations on the cost of new housing, not the actual cost of remodeling, so EPA figures underestimate the cost of lead mitigation. Liability insurance for professional remodelers is another factor expected to add to the expense of remodeling.

Young, first-time homeowners are not the only ones who will be affected. Analysts warn landlords may decide to postpone renovation, thus leaving potentially dangerous lead-contaminated properties untreated.

The science is unclear on how the new standard would reduce levels of lead in the blood. Lead paint was phased out years ago, and no new homes contain lead-based paint. But another potential source of lead comes from the atmospheric deposition of lead into the soil after years of lead-based automobile exhaust. A child’s contact with contaminated soil is a potential factor in elevating lead levels in the blood.

Criminalizing Painting

Some activist groups seek to force the elimination of lead paint from all existing buildings and have pushed for states to file class-action lawsuits against paint companies. Even at the municipal level, government bodies have sought to become involved, some issuing criminal and civil sanctions.

Cincinnati officials, for example, have filed 15 criminal complaints against landlords who have not moved to eliminate lead in buildings. Cincinnati’s other proposals include filing criminal charges against owners who fail to abide by clean-up orders and issuing search warrants when inspectors are not granted access to property.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch (D) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the owners of 300,000 contaminated homes and won a jury verdict from paint companies for approximately $1 billion. Lead-elimination activists are applying pressure to the Massachusetts attorney general to file a similar suit against paint companies. It is estimated that almost 67 percent of Boston’s housing contains lead.

Business leaders believe voluntary and incentive-based approaches would work better than punitive sanctions. Dressman suggested, “A more practical approach may be to provide tax incentives to property owners who do choose to use trained individuals to complete the work.”

Jeff Edgens, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is director of research for the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

For more information …

“The Rhode Island Disease: An Assault on the Rule of Law,” New Jersey Star Ledger, April 6, 2006, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=18847

“Lead Paint–Status: EPA Comment Period Closed May 25th,” Regulation, July 2006, http://www.heartland.org/pdf/19506.pdf