EPA overreaches in proposed lead rule extension

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EPA has now gone way off the deep end and is proposing to extend the lead paint renovation rule to commercial and government buildings and will rely heavily on computer modeling rather than actual data.

It made sense when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned lead in many consumer products in order to protect children. The agency banned lead in gasoline, in paint and in plumbing products that convey drinking water. This all started in the ‘70s. When lead was found to be harmful, lead was first banned in gasoline in 1973 and then in other products. Lead paint was banned in 1978. Lead was banned in 50:50 tin/lead solder used for potable water pipe in the late 1980s and finally in brass plumbing fittings this year.

Because this has been going on for so long, the results have been measurable. The amount of lead in the bloodstreams of children has fallen to negligible levels. Nevertheless, lead paint in dwellings built (and painted) before 1978 still posed a problem, so it was not beyond the pale when EPA proposed rules to protect children when walls in such structures were knocked down or drilled through during renovations. The rules also applied to daycare centers and schools, a.k.a. Child-Occupied Facilities. Since EPA has an acronym for everything, it refers to them as COFs.

EPA has now gone way off the deep end and is proposing to extend the lead paint renovation rule to commercial and government buildings.

EPA is seeking public comment on the “Framework for Identifying and Evaluating Lead-Based Paint Hazards from Renovation, Repair, and Painting Activities in Public and Commercial Buildings.” (Of course, there’s an acronym, P&CB.) The Framework describes an approach for identifying and evaluating potential hazards created by renovations of public and commercial buildings.

EPA maintains that the authority granted to it under the Toxic Substances Control Act will allow it to extend the rule to commercial and government buildings in the same way that it gave the agency the authority to ban lead paint. It claims that Section 402(c)(3) of TCSA directs EPA to revise its lead abatement activities to apply to renovation or remodeling activities in public and commercial buildings constructed before 1978.

In its Framework Document, EPA gets speculative: “The lead dust created during P&CB renovations can move downwind to surrounding COFs, residences and P&CBs. This dust can penetrate these buildings via air infiltration. In addition, dust can deposit on the ground or hard surfaces, leading to elevated lead levels and subsequent track-in of dust, which would contribute to interior dust levels.”

And here’s where it gets really murky. EPA is proposing to “measure” the efficacy of this rule in protecting children from lead hazards not based on actual data, but based on computer modeling.

I’m having a hard time getting anyone to comment on this proposed rule on the record because apparently they’ve been rendered speechless. Or maybe just dumbfounded about how convoluted this proposal is.

In one of its newsletters, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association states that PHCC, “continues to be concerned that — without considering real data — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may publish a ‘one size fits all’ lead paint rule for public and commercial buildings. To make sure real-life feedback from renovation contractors is considered, PHCC will meet … with the Lead Paint Coalition to continue an assessment of a lead paint rule framework document recently released by the EPA.

Rather than submitting comments on its own by EPA’s June 30 deadline, PHCC joined the Commercial Properties Coalition in stating, “The Framework (proposed rule) would benefit from fuller development of its methodology and inputs, independent peer review, and EPA’s consideration of technical reviewers’ comments before soliciting public comment or proceeding to rely on this approach.”

If you want to get into the arcane details of regulation, you can read the Commercial Properties Coalition’s 34 pages of formal comments here.

The Framework document also establishes an accelerated, consolidated process that the coalition believes skips a few required steps, the Coalition said. For example, the EPA proposes combining the hazard identification and regulation process into one proceeding, which the coalition describes as “misguided.” (In comparison, the residential lead paint rule was established seven years after the EPA conducted a rulemaking to develop a hazard identification standard.) The coalition letter states that the EPA does not have the authority to create shortcuts or avoid rulemakings, studies and a chronology that Congress has established.

The industry group’s response agrees with EPA’s conclusion that “One Size Fits All” approach is not appropriate for P&CB because they “vary greatly” in terms of their sizes, shapes, configurations, uses, occupancies and cleaning frequencies. These differences create an increased need to first identify which specific settings create a hazard and actually fall within EPA’s regulatory authority rather than combining the identification and regulation processes.

The coalition also states that the Framework’s technical aspects are novel, not fully developed, and open to question.  The group advised that EPA should proceed by identifying whether specific P&CB lead paint hazards exist. There’s a novel idea — find out if specific lead paint hazards exist before you regulate.

PHCC has long argued that public policy must be the direct result of scientific research and data — not computer modeling — to assess health risks of lead paint dust exposure. We here at CONTRACTOR agree with that.

Another veteran government affairs professional was fatalistic. You can’t beat these guys, he told me; if you sue EPA, you’re not going to win, so don’t bother. The two things an association can do, he said, is to train its members well to mitigate lead dust during renovations and draft iron-clad, cover-your-butt model contract language they can use.

Let’s hope that in the coming months that EPA reconsiders this regulatory misadventure and either shelves it entirely or converts it to best practices guidelines.

Every so often I say something worth hearing on Twitter @bobmader

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Robert Mader

Bob Mader is the editor of CONTRACTOR magazine, Green Mechanical Contractor magazine, and Radiant Living magazine. He has been writing about plumbing, mechanical, green building and HVACR topics for...
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