Will You Help Enforce the EPA Rules?

John G. Swanson
May 17, 2011
THE TALK... | Codes & Standards

Many in the industry have problems with the EPA's lead paint rules. But I've also heard many argue that if the laws are in the books, they need to be enforced. WDDA representatives were in Washington just yesterday making the argument that enforcement of current regulations need to begin before EPA expands its those requirements further.

Well, it doesn't mean the EPA doesn't want to move forward with the addition of lead clearance tests, but enforcement of current rules has started.  The federal agency has filed its first case against a Maine contractor for not following lead-safe work procedures on a multifamily housing unit. He reportedly faces a minimum fine of $150,000.

The case was the result of an anonymous video post on YouTube. When I read that, I wondered who would do that? A competitor? A disgruntled employee?  I also decided it would be interesting to see how many of you out there might report such a violation.  So, that's our poll question of the week.  And, of course, I'd like to hear from you too.  Why would you be willing to do such a thing? O why not? Is the punishment too harsh? Should contractors get a warning first? And, now that it's clear there will be some enforcement, what do you think the impact will be? Do you expect stepped up enforcement will help those companies that are following the rules? Post a comment or email me and share your thoughts.

 

Survey Results as of 05/24/2011:



Would You Report RRP Rule Violations?

No, I prefer to mind my own business.

  

 

56%

Possibly, but not sure.

  

 

23%

Yes, I would.

  

 

18%

Yes, I already have.

  

 

2%

 

News that EPA has filed its first case against a contractor for violating lead safe work rules stirred up quite a reaction.  As can be seen in some of the comments, the idea of a $150,000 fine that's likely to put someone out of business does not sit well with many readers. That thought, and continued disagreement with the rules, probably drives the majority vote among respondents that say they wouldn't report violations of the EPA rules.

One reader, "furious about that video," wrote, "We abide by the rules that were written by the lawyers," but firmly believes what the EPA is doing is overkill. "I’m a small contractor in Chicago and I have to tell you the homes I’m in that were built before 1978 have lead everywhere. It’s on the walls, baseboards, door jambs. Every time they open the door or push furniture they disturb lead, yet I have to put up walls, contain the area, suit up, put up caution signs, etc, etc. After we leave (the occupants) still are surrounded by lead that gets disturbed on a daily basis. The biggest issue I have with their system is the amount of plastic that is wasted and can never be recycled. What happens to all of that plastic that we are all using? I want to know how I can help fight the EPA on their ridiculous process. Lead is everywhere!! You cannot escape it."

"We sell and install replacement windows as one part of our full service fenestration business….Our production manager, re-measure and service managers are all AAMA certified Master Installers, they are also lead certified….We do the job the right way, lead tests, permits, correct DP rated windows," writes another reader.  Based on past experience, "involving local code officials usually backfires" when it comes to reporting violators of various regulations, he continues, however. 

"This industry needs to start policing itself before some one else does it for us," he asserts. "All the lead mitigation rules have done is made us one level more un-competitive against those that 'play' the system. I would love to see you guys come out in support of cleaning up the industry….from mis-labeled DP ratings on windows to the guys 'gaming' the replacement window and home improvement business they all need to be held accountable…"

Personally, I don't know whether I'm ready to stand up and support an initiative to "clean up the industry," but I do think we–both the window and door and remodeling/construction industries in general–should be more proactive. We can't just argue and fight with EPA. We need to try and propose reasonable, effective rules and procedures to protect children, our workers and the public in general against the dangers of lead. 

And as much as we disagree with the EPA rules as written, we need to remember that there are cases where contractors endangering children and/or their workers. We need to be proactive here too. I don't like the idea of anonymously posting videos on the internet, but I do think a phone call or email to the proper authorities can be the right thing to do.

Comments

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Let's face it folks, the EPA can put down all the rules they want, contractors can rat on other contractors, videos can be exposed, but we will never, ever be rid of lead.  Never.   We have a better chance at ending world hunger before we will ever be able to get rid of lead.  Lead isn't in just homes, it's everywhere.    For the homes with children, I agree, let's follow the rules.  But for adults with no kids, empty nesters?!  Why should they have to be subjected to the process and the expense.  They were exposed all of their lives just like everyone of us. The lawyers that wrote the rules ingested lead, guaranteed!!!   I want the "OPT OUT" law back!  Customers without kids don't care so why should the EPA shove it down their throat.  It takes their "right" away from them. 

I work for a company that is certified as a sales consultant. We have a policy to follow the rules on all levels and it makes me sick to see other companies doing the work without following the rules. I give quotes every day and go over in detail the dangers and new laws with customers (Be honsest with you most customers really dont care). I can't tell you how many jobs that I have lost to companies that don't give a crap and will do the job on the cheap. I have not yet started to report the violations I see, but I will tell you I have started to document them. I did go to the EPA's web site to look at the process but did not have much luck finding a easy way to start reporting the companies I have witnessed. Just a warning to the companies that don't really care that you are being watched and your time will come.

I found the comments by the others to be interesting. I thought I was the only contractor who thought this law was absurd. I find it interesting that when this first started the Goverment figured it would only cost about $25.00 per household to conform which is far from reality. We have tried to follow the rules. We had our employees certified, we bought all of the proper forms and equipment just to make sure we would not get into trouble. Everybody has been trained and we now have new office procedures to comply with this ruling. We next went into this schrinking market to find that we could not pass that additional cost on to the customer. If we could get an additional $50.00 to $75.00 per window we would have done it a long time ago. We have had customers cancel the work instead of paying for the lead abatement. It doesn't supprise me that the goverment is too out of tough to realize that the additional cost to the contractor that is not recovered from the homeowner just turned from profit to an expense and we don't have to pay taxes on expenses, thus if we are in a 30 to 50% tax bracket then the Goverment is now picking up 30 to 50% of the cost because that was profit before this rule went into effect.  It sounds like our goverment is continuing to do an outstanding job.

If lead is so dangerous for the people inside the house then the Goverment should pay us to take this dangerous product out and dispose of it.  I grew up in a house full of lead and I have been a contractor for 32 years and I would like to think we have improved the lives of the thousands of people we have worked for and no one ever got sick from lead. I think this has gone why to far and I'm afraid we wouldn't be able to reverse this process and bring society back to sanity.

This EPA lead program has no "Common Sense Factor" at all in it.  It has been a lose-lose proposition for our small window and door business.  At our cerification class, the teacher told us that if EPA comes in on one of our jobs, he can say the plastic isn't taped correctly and that's one violation, the doorways arent' sealed perfectly, which is another viloation and on and on with each violation being a $37,000 fine, meaning one violation could put us out of business even if we are attempting to do things right. They also said that the inspectors will not be our friends trying to advise us how to do better, but to make examples of us so they can strike fear into other contractors. They even said that some states could base the pay of the inspectors on the violations they can aquire. So even if you try to play by the rules , they could still potentially put you out of business. So we have had to make the hard choice of turning down any pre-78 homes that prove positive for lead, meaning we lose jobs which means we lose money. Naturally there is the guy with the pick-up truck and step ladder that will step right in and do the job not even checking for lead. So it boils down to losing business by turning it down or trying to follow the rules and walking on eggshells just waiting for a inspector that is having a bad day and wants to find as many violations as possible, putting us out of business and making him a EPA hero!   Our government needs to open it;s eyes and take a look at what it is doing to small business. In my area as well as across the country, you will find that there are fewer and fewer small companies that have sons or daughters that are following up behind mom and dad to be the next generation to carry on the business. Our Company was founded in 1935 by my great grandfather, but when I pass away, that will be the end of it. After seeing what our government and EPA are doing to us, my son has chosen not to carry on the business, but become a engineer. The sad thing is that I believe he is making the right choice. I never thought I'd say that. That is really sad!  Respectfully, Aaron Gardner

Last year, I spoke with various subcontractors about the RRP rules. They were politely interested, but not very concerned. When I read today’s postings, I focused on the logic/reason/excuse the government used to bring these regulations about: “to protect children”. Hey! What about us grown-ups? And the old people? Don’t they deserve some consideration as well? Oh, I realized, not enough emotional appeal. I think the EPA should issue guidelines and allow state and local governments to make the regulations. The Feds should keep their nose out of local business! I would report violations to a local/regional authority, but not to the bureaucrats.

This law is absolutely insane!  If the EPA was truly concerned about children's health or for that matter any consumers health then why are homeowners allowed to do any renovation to their own home without having to follow any goverment regulations?  They can tear up whatever they want and spread as much dust as possible with no consequences from the EPA.  Obviously this isn't about "health and safety concerns" it is all about money.  This is just one more way for the goverment to target someone through a "fine" to raise money.  Basically another tax!  One more burden on the back of a small business person.  If you really wanted to protect yourself you would have all persons living in the home take a blood test for lead poison before you even start the job to make sure that they don't already have it in case you are sued by an ambulance chasing lawyer.  How insane is that?  Sounds crazy but that seems to be the lenghts you have to go to in this litigous society we live in.  Seriously, how do you know if the homeowner doesn't already have lead in their blood?  Other countries must just laugh at us with these ridiculous laws we create every day.  It is just a matter of time before you start seeing lawyers advertising on TV for lead poison victims.  The goverment is just trying to protect all of us from ourselves and make us all idiot proof.  A $150K fine?  Are you kidding me?  What is that truly going to solve?  So now the contractor files bankruptcy, suppliers and lenders get stuck and him and his family lose all their posessions.  To put salt in the wound the EPA goes out and asks all his fellow tradesmen to turn in the next guy they see because they have no way of enforcing it themselves.  Thats just beautiful!  If the goverment is so concerned about saving lives then just ban  alcohol, cigarettes and guns and reduce the speed limit to 25.  Lead poisoning would then be the least of our problems! 

This law is costing all contractors money every day. The contractor trying to follow the laws (not 100% possible) is either losing work due to the additional costs, or losing profit by pricing the job too low. The contractor refusing to due work on pre-'78 homes will lose those business opportunities. And the contractor ignoring the law will eventually get caught and be fined. Only the vigorous enforcement of this law, and the imposing of maximum fines, will have any chance of eliminating the "illegal" contractor. When we are all playing by the same rules, we will be able to recoup at least more of the costs of this additional burden. Additionally, only the loud shouts of the American public in opposition to this law (due to the sky-high costs) will have any chance to reform these insane rules. Until that day, I won't work on any lead positive homes, and I will report anyone I find working illegally.

 

All the homes that I'm in are full of lead everywhere.  The door jambs, the baseboards the window casings and sills, back porches leading to the basement, walls.  The paint is disturbed every day by opening and closing doors, moving furniture, etc.  Why don't we make homeowners suit up and put up caution signs and lock the children away every time they open and close their door.   My point is that complaints that come from parents, about high lead in their blood, are all relative.  It could have come from school, a pencil, opening and closing the door at home or someone's elses home.  The EPA is way out of control and we need to fight to stop them.   What about all that plastic being wasted?  Is that going to be recycled?  EPA needs to go back to the table, with the contractors, and re-write their process.   I want to know how I can get more involved to get the EPA to stop killing us with their overwhelming lead free process.

I think the entire law is worthless.  The fines are too stiff and will certainly put most contractors out of business.  Lets face it, you would literally have to ingest the paint coming off the house for the lead to cause harm of any consequence.  Also, another point is in the slow economy, replacement products are a great deal to those out of work.  I would like to know who really started this and see the cold hard facts as to why this was inacted to begin with.   

Enforcement is needed since it is the law.  Penalty has to be in relationship to the offense.  Does a $150,000 fine make sense?  A few months ago this was legal.  Also does a fine this large put a small business out of business?  If so, who gains? 

They have made an example out of this company.  Let's not put people on the street for this regulation or any regulation .  Instead of fining, would we all win if the companies and employees were given training on this first offense.  A repeat is a whole new issue, then the hammer falls since the employees know better.