As the nation grapples with lead concerns, two major trade associations are urging the government to re-examine lead rules because proper test kits aren’t available, costing contractors untold thousands in unnecessary work safe practices.

The Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) program rule requires contractors to use costly lead-safe work practices in homes built before 1978 — unless a test shows no lead-based paint would be disturbed. When the RRP rule was first adopted in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency promised an affordable lead test kit that would provide a false negative of no more than 5 percent and a false positive of no more than 10 percent by 2010. However, of the two test kits available, false positives range from 42 percent to 78, percent, according EPA’s own studies. Furthermore, EPA stated that it “has no plans or resources to sponsor additional testing of kits…”

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) are two trade groups saying that’s unacceptable. “We’re concerned that they’ve abandoned development of that kit, and we think they have responsibility to develop that test kit,” said Kevin McKenney, WDMA’s government affairs director. McKenney quickly adds that WDMA supports efforts to eliminate lead in homes, a position NAHB shares.

But at the same time the groups want EPA to re-examine — and even narrow — the RRP rule because EPA based the RRP rule’s economic analysis on faulty test kit assumptions. The test kits were to reduce costs to regulated entities from $758 million in 2008 (pre test kit) to $507 million in 2010 (post test kit), according to the EPA. No one seems to know how off those figures actually are. But WDMA estimates unnecessary work safe practices are adding $60 per window opening or $500 on the average 8-window replacement job. The EPA’s estimate was an additional cost of $35 per job.

“…It calls into question whether the program as it currently exists would have been adopted if the economic analysis would have been based on existing technology and not the development of an elusive test kit yet to be developed,” NAHB environmental policy program manager, Tamra Spielvogel wrote to EPA. She added, “To address this deficiency EPA should act to narrow the targeted scope of the rule to cover those homes most likely to contain lead-based paint and those most likely to present an exposure risk to children under 6 or pregnant women.”

Not everyone in the industry agrees. “There exists more accurate testing methods, however, contractors are loathe to ask a homeowner to spend $200 more to have more accurate testing done, which a company like mine can provide,” said Doug Dalsing, co-owner of Testudo LLC, a lead safe training company.

Dalsing uses X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) technology to test for lead, a more accurate method EPA wants to reduce training requirements on to address the test kit issue. XRF testing ranges from $100 to $300, which Dalsing said is a small price compared to the overall cost of most replacement jobs. “Contractors have two options: Spend next to nothing and get inaccurate results, or spend $200 for more accurate testing and save time and man hours.”

Dalsing dismissed associations’ attacks on test kits. “I just think they’re trying to poke holes in the regulation in an attempt to water it down,” he said. “Instead of trying to poke holes, look up your local lead inspector, strike up a relationship and get the to the job where the cost benefit to do the testing will pay off in the end.”