Contractors must soon take additional precautions to protect children from lead-based paint when renovating older buildings. A few weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new work place standards for renovating old homes where children or pregnant women live, and in older buildings that house child-care centers or schools. The requirement will be for structures built before 1978. Beginning in 2010, contractors must train workers on dealing with lead paint, post warning signs, contain lead-contaminated dust, and keep people and pets away from work areas.
Many physicians and scientists have criticized the long-awaited rule as inadequate to protect children who live in the estimated 38 million homes that contain old lead paint. Each year, about 11 million renovations occur in U.S. homes built before 1978, when lead was banned from household paint. When walls and windowsills of those homes are sanded, demolished or drilled, lead dust can be unleashed. The rule will cover all pre-1978 houses, apartments, child-care facilities and schools occupied by children under 6 or pregnant women. Builders, painters, electricians and others will have to be trained and certified in lead abatement procedures. They will be prohibited from using sandblasters, torches or other power tools that stir up lead dust, and they must post warning signs, keep residents out of work areas and contain and clean up dust and debris.
Exposure to lead is especially dangerous to young children, because it can damage their developing brains, causing learning disabilities and behavioral problems. The rule comes 16 years after Congress ordered the EPA to protect children from lead paint during home renovations. After the EPA proposed its rule in 2006, many physicians and other experts, including an EPA scientific advisory panel and the American Academy of Pediatricians, said it didn’t go far enough. They said that contractors should be required to verify that no lead dust remained in the homes and that the requirements should apply to all pre-1978 homes, not just those with children under six.
The building industry claims the rule will drive up the cost of renovations and could force people to do the work themselves or use unsafe, unlicensed workers. I am told that the actual costs would not be that great. An EPA analysis estimated that the cost of home renovations nationwide would rise by $500 million per year, but that the regulations would save as much as $5 billion a year in children’s health and education costs. Because lead has already been removed in many low- income housing projects through a federal program, much of the remaining threat lies in suburban homes that are being remodeled.
Source: Los Angeles Times and Associated Press
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