The danger posed by lead paint is “a very real and serious problem,” says D.S. Berenson, managing partner of Johanson Berenson, a national law firm specializing in home improvement industry issues. Now, though “the industry had nothing to do with creating this problem,” says Berenson, the U.S. government is making it the home improvement contractor's problem.

In March, under fire from Senate critics, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued rules concerning how contractors must deal with renovation, repair, and painting projects that potentially disturb lead paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978. These new rules interpret the provisions of The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, which banned the use of lead paint after 1978.

In the Northeast, Midwest, and in older cities, that's a lot of homes. Some 87% of U.S. homes built prior to 1940 contain lead paint, as do 69% built between 1940 and 1960, and 24% built after 1960 and prior to the 1978 ban.

PAMPHLET REQUIREMENT For years contractors have been required to provide consumers with a government pamphlet advising them of lead paint hazards, but few were aware of the law, says Paul Toub, vice president of marketing for Kachina Contractor Solutions, in Elkins Park, Pa., which provides lead paint compliance consulting and other services.

As of December 22, however, contractors must hand out a new brochure and get a signed acknowledgement from the consumer that he/she has received it. And as of April 22, 2010, contractors also will have to determine if lead paint is present and use “lead safe work practices” when performing the job, according to Berenson. Contractors will need to obtain training and certifications as well, he adds.

Toub says his current understanding is that, “each company will be required to have at least one certified renovator on staff, and that person has to go through an eight-hour course, two hours of which will be hands-on training.”

WORKING ON DETAILS But many details remain undetermined. Trainers can't begin to apply for accreditation until next April, and contractors can't even apply for EPA certification until October 22, 2009. More information is available at the EPA Web site,, where the required consumer pamphlet, “Renovate Right,” also can be downloaded. —Jay Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Jamestown, R.I.