Is lead-safe remodeling worth it? (© Ingram Publishing/SuperStock; Photos.com/Jupiter Images)

© Ingram Publishing/SuperStock; Photos.com/Jupiter Images

As of April 22, federal law requires that all U.S. contractors be certified to work with lead-based paint in homes, child-care facilities and schools built before 1978. Details of the new RRP (Renovation, Repair and Painting) rule appear in a brochure, “Renovate Right,” which contractors must give to homeowners before work begins. (Bing: More on the new rule)

The law requires certified renovators to be on-site to ensure that employees follow specific practices to prevent lead contamination. These include posting warning signs, taping up heavy plastic to contain the work area, minimizing dust by wet sanding, then cleaning with a HEPA vacuum and a wet mop.

Certification takes eight hours of training by a provider accredited by the Environmental Protection Agency or the state and costs from $200 to $400 per trainee.

Not every employee of a remodeling company must be certified, but the company itself must pay a $300 fee to obtain EPA certification.

Contractors failing to comply could get hit with a civil penalty of up to $37,500 per incident, per day.

Contractor’s perspective: “Even though it costs money, I actually think it’s a good idea,” says Pat Porzio, an electrical contractor and master plumber. “But of the 40 people in our training class, I was one of few who thought that.” Porzio estimates the law will add $500 to $1,500 in labor costs, depending on the job’s size. The EPA estimates that the cost for containment, cleaning and verification will range up to $170 per job.

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Regulator’s perspective: “Lead poisoning is completely preventable,” says Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Exposure can damage young brains and nervous systems, leading to learning disabilities. Children can be exposed directly, or a pregnant woman can pass toxins to a fetus. “The EPA issued RRP because a disturbing number of America’s children are still being poisoned by lead-based paint,” Owens says.

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Consumer advocate’s perspective: Rebecca Morley is executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, a nonprofit organization that supports the RRP rule. Compliance with the law will protect 1.4 million children under age 6 and 5.4 million adults from lead-dust exposure, she says, citing an EPA statement. “To me,” Morley says, “the most poignant thing about lead poisoning is that you don’t see symptoms in a child until later in life and that the damage is permanent and irreversible.”

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Homeowner’s perspective: Elizabeth Babbin of Bethlehem, Pa., lives in a stone colonial house built in 1930, so lead paint is a given. Before the new rule took effect, she investigated lead risks to her 4-year-old son. “I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be for regulation,” she says. “I’m surprised there haven’t been stronger rules before this.” Asked if she would pay as much as $1,500 extra to comply with RRP standards on a big remodeling job, she says, “Are you kidding? A child’s IQ can drop I don’t know how many points. You can’t put a price on that.”

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