Unavailability of Inexpensive Test Kits Pushes Cost of EPA Lead Paint Rule Higher

A new NAHB economic analysis of the costs associated with the Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting rule shows why the rule — intended to protect young children from the significant hazards of lead paint exposure — is even more likely to backfire.

The NAHB findings — which are included in new comments from the association filed on Aug. 6 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed clearance testing rule — follows an announcement by the agency that more accurate, inexpensive lead paint test kits will not be available anytime soon. The kits were expected to be ready by next month and were seen as key to keeping the lead paint rule affordable for home owners.

NAHB is also looking at the revised lead hazard standard that the EPA is now preparing for residential buildings and the new lead hazard standard for commercial and public buildings.

The agency has formed a Science Advisory Board to review proposals for the standard. To determine whether any members of this board may have a conflict of interest or may not be impartial, NAHB has made a Freedom of Information request to the EPA for records, correspondence and other paperwork of the advisory staff.

$2 Billion Out the Window

The new lead paint rule is expected to have a significant impact on the nation’s remodeling market, with repercussions for jobs, wages and tax revenue.

For example, NAHB Economics found that the cost of the lead-safe work practices and third-party lead-paint testing just for window replacements — a common renovation project — in all pre-1978 homes would result in:

-A reduction of $1.9 billion spent on window replacements performed by professional contractors
-A reduction of $1.0 billion in wages and salaries earned across all industries
-21,226 fewer jobs
-A reduction of $579 million in revenue for federal, state and local governments

“This is a classic case of good intentions resulting in unintended consequences,” said NAHB Remodelers Chair Donna Shirey, a remodeler in Issaquah, Wash.

“We’ll have more and more consumers who understandably balk at the higher costs of hiring an EPA-certified renovator and either do the work themselves or don’t do it at all, even if their homes have lead paint. I think the public health consequences could be quite significant,” she said.

The EPA’s economic analysis found that the cost of the work practices would be about $35 per job, averaging the costs of all jobs with those in which lead-safe work practices would be required and assuming the availability of an accurate, off-the-shelf kit that could check for the presence of lead paint for about $2 per test.

With the tests unavailable, consumers are left with more expensive methods to check for lead. Otherwise, the remodeler must assume that lead is present — even in homes built between 1960 and 1978, only 25% of which contain lead paint according to government estimates.

“That means that 75% of those consumers will have to pay for the rule, yet they get no benefit,” Shirey pointed out.

Rules for Remodelers

The lead rule requires remodelers, window installers and other contractors who work in housing and child-occupied facilities built before 1978 to use lead-safe work practices unless those homes are tested and found free of any lead paint.

Renovations in homes built before 1978 that affect painted surfaces measuring at least 6 square feet (or 20 square feet outside) must be managed by a certified renovator who has completed EPA-approved training and is employed by an EPA-certified firm.

Certified renovators complete EPA-approved training and submit a form and $300 to the EPA to become a certified firm. The certified renovator must then follow work practices stipulated in the rule, including containing and controlling the dust, cleaning up after the work, using a wet wipe to confirm the cleaning and maintaining careful records of each job for at least three years.

All renovators must provide their customers with the EPA’s “Renovate Right” brochure before starting work in pre-1978 housing.

Clearance Testing Update

The lack of a reliable, inexpensive test kit means that the economic assumptions that EPA has made in subsequent rulemakings — including the upcoming clearance testing requirement — must be rethought.

“NAHB fully expects that the EPA will issue a revised cost estimate for lead-safe work practices and take steps to raise consumer awareness of this issue,” Shirey said.

In its Aug. 6 comments, besides pointing out the increased cost for window replacement, NAHB clarified and expanded its earlier comments on dust-wipe sampling procedures, the physical condition of tested surfaces and the agency’s proposal to allow certified renovators to collect paint chip samples prior to remodeling.

For more information, e-mail Kelly Mack at NAHB, kmack@nahb.org, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8451.