ADDISON COUNTY — The annual spring building boom in Addison County and beyond is being at least slightly tempered by the financial impact of new federal regulations requiring contractors to take more precautions in performing renovation projects in older buildings containing lead paint.
While most acknowledge the new rules will make houses and other buildings safer, others say the whole picture was not taken into consideration before the rules took effect.
At issue is the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, which took effect on April 22. The EPA issued the new rule as a means of protecting people from potential health problems that could arise from ingesting lead dust and/or paint chips created by construction work on homes, child care facilities and schools built before 1978.
The new rule requires contractors to take a special eight-hour certification course and follow new procedures to remove, and properly contain, any lead paint if that substance is to be disturbed in patches of six square feet or more in the interior of a building, or 20 square feet or more on an exterior surface.
Among other things, the new rule calls for contractors to:
• Train and certify staff at an EPA-approved course on the proper ways of removing and disposing of lead paint when working on applicable pre-1978 structures. Contractors must have at least one certified worker per job site and the designated workers must take a refresher course every three years.
• Obtain a renovators’ license through the EPA, at a cost of $300.
• Must provide building owners with an informational pamphlet about the lead paint-related work that they are about to undertake. They must also keep records of the work they are performing as well as provide “cleaning verification” to the property owners.
Contractors who fail to comply with the new federal rule are subject to fines of up to $37,000.
“It’s a cash-grab from the federal government instituted without any research on the real impact to the industry,” said Joe Sinagra, executive officer of the Home Builders and Remodelers’ Association of Northern Vermont, an organization representing the interests of around 800 construction companies statewide.
It should be noted that the new federal program is separate from, and in addition to, the Vermont Lead Paint Law that has been in effect since 1994. That law has required contractors to take special precautions for work on pre-1978 rental structures and child care facilities in which one square foot or more of lead paint surface is being disturbed on the interior or exterior of the structure. The state rule requires one, four-hour (generally free) training course and one trained supervisor per affected site.
Bob Zatzke is program coordinator for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s Lead Hazard Reduction Program. Zatzke has become the state’s “go-to” person for information on the EPA’s new lead paint rule. That’s because the Vermont Department of Health did not accept delegation of authority to implement the new federal regulation, according to Zatzke.
As a result, Zatzke said the VHCB — which promotes land conservation, affordable housing and the preservation of historic structures — found itself “inundated with calls” from contractors seeking information on how to comply with the new federal lead paint rule.
“(The EPA) dumped the new rule out the door without thinking of some of the loose ends,” Zatzke said.
The VHCB has tried to help consumers and contractors by listing some information about the state and federal lead paint rules on its website at www.vhcb.org/lead.html. The site also contains information on where contractors can take EPA-approved training courses.
EXPENSES PASSED ON
While renovation and construction company officials said they understand the logic behind the new federal rule, they said it has created some needless red tape and additional expense that will have to be passed on to consumers right at a time when the economy was coming around and people were considering long-delayed projects.
Mark Raymond of Middlebury is an individual contractor who has done renovation jobs and fix-up projects for more than two decades. Throughout the years, he said he has taken special pains to properly deal with lead paint, which can be quite common in a state like Vermont with many older homesteads built before 1978.
Raymond had to take time off from work to be certified, a process that when combined with lost wages probably cost him around $1,000, he said. The newly prescribed containment procedures for lead paint require additional tarp, collection equipment and records keeping procedures that Raymond said can add “thousands of dollars to the cost of a job, if you do it right.”
It will be up to the EPA ensure the jobs are done properly. Zatzke does not anticipate the EPA field office in Boston will have a regular inspection presence at job sites in Vermont; rather, he expects enforcement will primarily be triggered by individual complaints.
“You know there are going to be some guys who aren’t going to follow (the EPA rule),” Raymond said of the prospect of some less-scrupulous workers taking their chances and cutting corners if there is little oversight.
Raymond added that lead paint is often quite easy to clean up unless it is sanded. But the law does not provide contractors with the latitude to make such allowances in the field, officials said.
Middlebury-based Mill Bridge Construction has sent several of its staff for training under the new EPA lead paint rule.
“We are trying to be as good as we can in understanding and following the new regulations,” said Mill Bridge Vice President John Tenny.
Tenny agreed with other contractors that the new law is adding expense to jobs — to a point where property owners are having to make some difficult decisions.
“It is another blow to the effort to save and renovate buildings,” Tenny said, as the extra lead paint-related expense can push property owners to tear down an older structure rather than invest in reclamation.
“It can definitely drive that decision,” agreed Peter Fjeld, estimator for Brandon-based McKernon Group, which sent around a dozen of its employees to lead paint training/certification courses.
Sinagra said the EPA may be hard-pressed in keeping track of which Vermont contractors are certified and which ones aren’t. That’s because Vermont has no licensure requirement for contractors, according to Sinagra.
“With the state of the economy, you have a lot of people saying, ‘I can be a contractor; how hard can that be?’” Sinagra said. He added a lot of contractors in the state don’t have a trucks with a corporate logo, making enforcement even more problematic for the EPA.
The Home Builders and Remodelers’ Association of Northern Vermont organized several lead paint certification courses that were attended by “a couple hundred” contractors, according to Sinagra.
“But that’s just a fraction of the number of contractors in Vermont,” Sinagra said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.