Jonathan Sweet is the editor in chief of Professional Remodeler, an award-winning trade publication for remodelers and home improvement contractors. He started his career covering homes and small businesses at a daily newspaper and has spent more than a decade writing for several construction trade publications including Qualified Remodeler, Construction Pro and Concrete Contractor. +Jonathan Sweet
All the remodelers out there who thought that the EPA RRP lead paint rules weren’t going to be enforced may want to think again.
The EPA announced in May it would be pursuing action against a Rockland, Maine, remodeler for alleged violation of the RRP rules. The EPA has said that Colin Wentworth is facing fines of at least $150,000 for multiple violations.
It’s the first punitive action the EPA has taken for violation of the new rules, although the agency has cited several companies for failing to provide the “Renovate Right” pamphlet to owners of pre-1978 homes. That has been required of remodelers for years, but many have ignored it.
The relatively lax enforcement of that rule has probably been what led many remodelers to think this would be no big deal.
In fact, in this case it wasn’t the EPA out looking for violators. The EPA only announced the action after an anonymous tipster alerted the agency to a video posted on YouTube of Wentworth’s workers removing paint from the outside of a child-occupied, pre-1978 home without any of the required safety measures in place. (The video has since been removed from YouTube.)
That’s the real danger here. Yes, most likely, an EPA investigator is never going to drive by your project and see you violating the rules. The small number of enforcement agents makes that statistically unlikely.
Like most companies that are nailed for violating EPA regulations, remodelers are going to get caught because somebody tips off the agency. Whether it be a competitor, a disgruntled ex-employee or a neighbor unhappy with the mess, there are plenty of people out there to turn you in. The EPA is actively encouraging contractors to turn in other contractors.
And that’s before we even get to talking about the states. Individual states can take over enforcement and regulation of lead paint under the RRP rules, as long as their regulations are at least as stringent as the federal rules. Fourteen states have already done so and more are expected to follow suit. While the situation is going to vary from state to state, the likelihood is that this is going to lead to tougher enforcement, especially as states look to make up for budget shortfalls.
We’re not done with this yet. We still don’t know how several issues will shake out, including the NAHB’s lawsuit against the EPA over the opt-out provision or the reconciliation of the conflicting rules under EPA, OSHA and HUD. Whatever happens, a year in to the new world of lead paint, it’s clear that it’s not something we can ignore.