EPA’s lead-safety regulations affect commercial remodels as well as residential projects.

For years, lead was added to paint to enhance its color and durability. In 1978, lead-based paint was banned due to concerns over its toxic impact on health. All lead-based paint is relatively safe as long as it remains intact. However, once it begins to peel or is turned into dust during a renovation, it becomes a serious health hazard. Lead-based paint is commonly found on walls, doors and windows in older buildings, including an estimated 38 million homes built before 1978.

Effective April 22, 2010, the EPA issued a rule titled the Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program (EPA 40 CFR Part 745) that affects construction and contracting organizations who receive compensation for renovation and repair work.  Specifically, the RRP rule creates regulations and training requirements for anyone who is involved with the commercial renovation of houses, apartments and child-occupied facilities, such as schools and day care centers, built before 1978. This rule includes pre-renovation education requirements as well as training, certifications and work practice requirements. The rule does not apply to minor maintenance or repair activities where less than six square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed in a room or where less than 20 square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed on the exterior.

According to the EPA, Non-compliant contractors may be liable for civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation. Contractors who knowingly or willfully violate this regulation may be subject to fines of up to an additional $25,000 per violation, or imprisonment, or both. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA (or a state, if this program has been delegated to it) may file an enforcement action against violators seeking penalties of up to $37,500 per violation, per day.

Renovation is broadly defined as any activity that disturbs painted surfaces and includes most repair, remodeling and maintenance activities, including window replacement.  Firms are required to be certified, their employees must be trained (either as a certified renovator or on-the-job by a certified renovator) on use of lead-safe work practices and lead-safe work practices that minimize occupants' exposure to lead hazards must be followed. In a nutshell, this means keeping the dust in the work area until proper disposal and keeping non-workers out.

Under the RRP, contractors and renovators are required to distribute to occupants and tenants a pamphlet, created and distributed by the EPA, before starting any renovation work. Contractors and renovators are also required to post signage outside of the work area that warns of the lead hazard. 

Requirements for Workers

A common misconception is that each worker must be certified via the EPA's Accredited Renovation Training program. In actuality, the contracting organization needs at least one certified renovator as well as a certified renovator to direct each job. The certified renovator must be physically present at the work site while signs are being posted, containment is being established and the work area is being cleaned after the renovation to ensure that these tasks are performed correctly. Although the certified renovator is not required to be on-site at all times, while the renovation project is ongoing, a certified renovator must nonetheless regularly direct the work being performed by other workers to ensure that the work practices are being followed (EPA, Lead; Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program, 2009). All other workers must be trained on best practices and hazard awareness to be in compliance with the RRP.


Testing should occur in each room where the renovation is taking place by the certified renovator before work begins. Do not assume that because one room is lead-paint free, others will be as well. As of now, a lead test kit can be EPA-recognized if it meets the negative response criterion of no more than 5 percent false negatives, with 95 percent confidence for paint containing lead at or above the regulated level, 1.0 mg/cm2 or 0.5 percent by weight. After September 1, 2010, the recognition of such kits will last until EPA publicizes its recognition of the first test kit that meets both the negative response and positive response criteria outlined in the RRP rule.

To date, EPA has recognized two available lead test kits, with limitations. They are the LeadCheck kit and the State of Massachusetts kit.  EPA recognizes that, when used by a certified renovator, the LeadCheck lead test kit can reliably determine that regulated lead-based paint is not present on all surfaces except plaster and drywall.

The Dangers of Lead Exposure


Lead exposure is dangerous, even in low levels. According to the EPA there is no demonstrated safe concentration of lead in the blood.  If not properly contained on the jobsite, lead dust and chips can not only affect the occupants of the home in which renovation is being performed, but the workers and their families as well. Common renovation activities like sanding, cutting and demolition can create hazardous lead dust and chips by disturbing lead-based paint, which can be harmful to adults and children.  It does not matter if a person breathes in, swallows or absorbs lead particles, the health effects are the same; however, the body absorbs higher levels of lead when it is breathed in.

Within our bodies, lead is absorbed and stored in our bones, blood and tissues. It does not stay there permanently, rather it is stored there as a source of continual internal exposure. As we age, our bones undergo demineralization and the internal exposures may increase as a result of larger releases of lead from the bone tissue.
Generally, lead affects children more than it does adults. Children tend to show signs of severe lead toxicity at lower levels of lead than adults. Lead poisoning has occurred in children whose parent(s) accidentally brought home lead dust on their clothing. Neurological effects and mental retardation have also occurred in children whose parent(s) may have job-related lead exposure.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have determined that lead is probably cancer-causing in humans.
Although the RRP rule is designed to protect occupants and children, the precautions outlined in the rule are just as important for workers, and workers' families.

With a noted increase in renovation work in the last few years, contracting firms may face an increase in exposure to lead hazards.  Concurrently, fines for noncompliance with the RPP rule may be enough to put a contracting firm out of business. Ensure you are in compliance with the training and work practice requirements to keep your customers, your workers and your business safe.

Construction Business Owner, December 2010