Why I’m grateful for the EPA’s new lead certification rule
A few weeks ago, early on a Monday morning, 17 of us filed into the basement of the Masonic Lodge in Newington, Conn., for our EPA-mandated 8-hour RRP training. Among the attendees were a few remodelers, a property manager, a flooring installer, two guys in ball caps, one woman, and a painter. When he found out there would be a test at the end of the class, the painter got a little agitated. “Oh, man, I flunk everything,” he said. “I flunked the safe boating course. I flunked my DUI class. . . . The only thing I know how to do is work hard.” I sympathized.
As we learned exactly what was involved in working on pre-1978 houses that contain lead, we all groaned at the finicky procedures, extra time, and additional cost that would be required. And of course, we wanted to know who was going to pay for it. But listening to the complaints (my own among them), another question came to mind, one that I haven’t heard anyone ask yet: Given that childhood exposure to lead can cause reduced IQ, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems, is there a correlation between early exposure to lead and the decision to become a contractor?
I guess it’s just human nature to resist change, to balk at extra work, and to condemn government regulations, but just once I’d like to hear a builder respond to the new RRP rule with appreciation and relief: “OMG. I had no idea that my work was putting my children and my customer’s children at risk (not to mention me and my customers). And thank goodness I now understand the issues, and thank goodness I can handle them with some plastic sheeting and a HEPA vacuum.”
In the end, I suspect that compliance with the new RRP rule will break down the same way as compliance with building codes, OSHA regulations, and insurance requirements. Unscrupulous, low-ball contractors will ignore it and continue to undercut the conscientious builders. But the best among us will do what we’ve always done: Use our best judgment. When young kids are present and the work is extensive, we’ll be meticulous. Other times, maybe less so. But we can only exercise that judgment because we’re armed with the knowledge of what’s at stake when dealing with lead paint and how to deal with it safely, knowledge that the EPA has worked furiously to provide us.
Now I wonder what other hazards we’ve got in our houses whose toxic effects we don’t fully understand. Fiberglass insulation? PVC pipes? Will we learn anything from the example of lead paint? Will we be more careful about what we put into our houses?
The day after my RRP certification class, I installed a new dishwasher, using a braided stainless-steel supply hose. In small print on the back of the package, I noticed the following note: “Warning: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”