ALTHOUGH LEAD-BASED paint has been banned for residential use since 1978, federal regulators are concerned about the potential health threat to children posed by lead-containing-dust that may be generated when lead-coated components are repaired or renovated. A new rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes work practices that apply to all “target housing” or child-occupied facilities, not just those properties that receive federal assistance. However, properties that have been certified to be free of lead-based paint by a state inspector using an approved protocol are exempt from the new regulations.

Starting next April, owners of “target housing” (defined as any housing constructed prior to 1978, except housing for the elderly or persons with disabilities unless any child under age 6 resides or is expected to reside in such housing; or any zero-bedroom dwelling) and child-occupied facilities built before 1978 will have to comply with the new regulations if renovation or repair work disturbs more than six square feet of surface area for interior work or 20 square feet for exterior work. The work must be completed by a trained and certifi ed renovator, and workers must also verify that the work site was appropriately cleaned based on EPA standards. In addition, residents must be notified and given a copy of an EPA pamphlet, Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools.

There are also record-keeping requirements imposed on apartment owners and contractors they hire to undertake work covered by the regulations. Failure to comply can result in fines of up to $32,500 per required item, per day, for each business day for three years from the date of the original violation. Because of the details involved, the EPA and HUD participated in an NMHC webinar to educate the industry about the EPA's new regulations.

Early Dissent

In an interesting turn of events, in late August the EPA settled a lawsuit concerning the new regulations brought by the Sierra Club and additional advocacy groups. Among other concerns, the groups strongly opposed the fact that the regulations allowed work areas to be cleaned to meet a “white glove test” rather than relying on lab analysis of dust wipes to assure that a work area is left lead hazard-free.

In response to questions from NMHC on how this settlement agreement will affect the implementation of the new regulations, the EPA said it does not plan to extend the start date of April 2010, but the settlement agreement is likely to result in changes to the scope of the required worker training course.

Good Work

In the meantime, it is critical for owners and managers to familiarize themselves with lead-safe work practices, which they have found to be an effective means to control lead hazards in target housing since the passage of Title X in 1993.

As part of the RRP rulemaking process, NMHC submitted independently collected and verified laboratory data from 28,000 apartment units that had been subject to typical maintenance, representing a mix of occupied and unoccupied apartments built prior to 1978. While 77 percent of these units were found to contain lead-based paint, an analysis of the lead dust test data at the room-level revealed that 96.1 percent of the rooms did not contain a dust hazard level on either the floor or the windowsill. Room analysis in units that were determined by X-ray fluorescence testing to be free of lead-based paint revealed that 99.3 percent of the rooms were free of dust lead hazards.

Eileen Lee is vice president of energy and environmental policy at the National Multi Housing Council in Washington, D.C.