The Lead Exposure Reduction Amendments Act, introduced in the Senate earlier this month, would, among other things, reinstate the opt out provision in Environmental Protection Agency lead safe renovation rules. The provision — allowing owners of older homes to waive those procedures under some circumstances — was included in the original Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) regulations but eliminated by the EPA as of July 2010. (Read more here.)

Competitive Disadvantage

But with the rules in place for almost two years, some contractors feel that restoring opt out would not substantially change selling or installation practices that are now standard at their companies. They cite the large number of contractors who ignore RRP, due to lack of enforcement, as a competitive disadvantage they've been forced to position themselves against.

"I don't think it would affect my business tremendously," says Glen May, of Glen May Construction Co., in Basking Ridge, N.J. May, who obtained RRP certification in 2009, estimates that maybe half the contracting companies in his market are similarly certified. And even some certified companies "aren't doing the actual work" of stringent containment and clean-up called for by RRP rules. "I spent all this time and energy [to get certified]," May says, "and I end up competing against guys who aren't doing anything."

Many cite lack of enforcement for the uneven response to RRP rules. Across the country, reports of fines or other actions by the EPA against violators have been few. Up to now they've been limited to a handful of well-publicized cases involving large companies cited for failing to hand out the EPA's pamphlet on lead-safe renovation to prospects or clients.

Like May, Chris Zorzy, owner of A&A Services, in Salem, Mass., laments the lack of enforcement. Zorzy, who teaches classes on lead-safe compliance and has produced a DVD on the topic, concedes that, given the scarcity of resources at the government level, "in some ways it's unenforceable."

Massachusetts, which is among the handful of states with their own rules and enforcement, has since 2009 fined 24 renovation contractors for violating the lead rules set by the state's Department of Labor Standards. Those fines range from $500 to $9,750. Massachusetts contractor and lead-safe renovation trainer Greg Paskell says that his state leads all others in enforcement.

Procedures in Place

Given the political stakes, few are convinced that the Senate bill will pass both houses. And if it did, it's "not going to create any more work or save any jobs," says blogger and remodeling industry consultant Shawn McCadden.

He points out that contractors who know how to sell lead-safe jobs already do so, and homeowners who don't want to pay the extra cost can easily find a contractor who will ignore the rules. (See McCadden's blog. )

McCadden suggests that if homeowners, when they go to sell their home, were required to prove that their property has been tested for lead — in effect shifting responsibility to the property owner — "it would be a different ballgame." Paskell, who has trained more than 5,000 people in lead-safe renovation, says that passing the bill would be seen by a lot of contractors as a "moral victory." It would also, he suggests, make some more open to complying with rules they currently ignore.

Ken Moeslein, CEO of Legacy Remodeling, in Pittsburgh, says that the company's salespeople test every house for lead, and have done so since the RRP rule went into effect. Prior to July 2010, when owners of pre-1978 homes in the rustbelt city could still opt out, Moeslein says, only one or two customers out of "hundreds" chose to go with lead-safe renovation when given the choice. Since then "I'm sure we've lost some sales for having complied," Moeslein says. "What's really difficult is when you're up against 10 other guys who couldn't care less."