EPA- Lead Rule- Lets Dissertate!


Stone Them! another opinion……………….[sic]

By Chris Wright

Stone Them!

Chris Wright shares his RRP thoughts.

Before commenting, I have to say the question reminds me of the biblical parable that culminates in the phrase, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.” How many of us live 1,000% compliant with every rule and regulation that exists in our industry? The question of ethics brought up in the post above (http://tinyurl.com/2dpdyew) points out the selective approach many of us take to regulation, whether we want to admit it in a poll or not. We follow the spirit of the law, but not always the letter of it. It’s a subjective judgment that exists among both the regulated and those who are tasked with doing the regulating.

In this case, the issue would be much clearer cut if the rule had been written and implemented intelligently. I say that not from the perspective of a contractor who hates being told what to do (even though I’ll freely admit I do) but as one who has studied the rule in detail and believes strongly it will not accomplish its stated goals. The issue of lead safety is an important one but the method and focus of the rule is misplaced. It’s a polarizing mess that will all but ensure its eventual failure, either from lack of enforcement or repeal.

“Regulate yourselves or have it done for you.”

As an individual, I can get behind that thought. I’ve always wanted to be the best, and delivering a safer project is just one more competitive advantage and another way to demonstrate I’m the best choice. It’s also the right thing to do and there’s a great deal of positioning power that comes with knowing in your heart you’re looking out for the client’s best interests better than anyone else could or would. But I question exactly how self-regulation of this issue could have been accomplished to any degree on a macro level when the remodeling/home improvement industry is such a fragmented one.

“WE” should have done more on our own? That’s a mighty big WE.


Those of us who run professional companies, belong to trade organizations, network in places like this, etc. are statistically the least likely to cause hazards according to the EPA’s own study. We as professionals weren’t the ones creating the greatest hazards and those who were are outside our ability to influence with any kind of self-regulation.

I haven’t been poisoning pregnant women and babies. So I have to bristle a little at being thrown into the WE mix when jobsite cleanliness has been important to me for a very long time—as I would assume it is to most of us who populate the forum. As for “the better way” we should be pushing for—more reasonable approaches have been part of the discussion from the beginning. The industry had a seat at the table from the get-go, but our concerns for the most part were given lip service and then dismissed.

Our market has always included competitors who shirk the rules because they either don’t know any better or just don’t care. It’s no different than licensing, permits, codes, etc. How do you police your marketplace for those things now? How you compete against the non-compliant firm will be no different than it always has been. It’s basic supply and demand. As long as there’s a consumer who wants it cheap instead of safe (or rather, doesn’t believe lead is a hazard to them) there will be firms who will perform work outside the rule. Even among those who might give lip service to believing lead is a potential hazard–there will always be those willing to rationalize and accept some risk to pay a little less. With that risk, come consequences on occasion—and that’s why “contractors have a bad reputation.”

[I do agree that our associations need to be more engaged with government affairs and I am glad to say that NARI, for one, is taking positive steps in that regard.]

Before you shine up your RRP Narc badge, just remember what we all learned in 1st grade: no one likes a tattle-tale. If you do decide to do your own ad-hoc field enforcement, you might consider what exactly the long-term benefit will be and what the possible down-side is.

You might say, “Turn them in, get them shut down, and they won’t be around to compete against you.”

I have better things to do than make a TINY dent in the population of non-compliant firms. I’m not Superman–I can’t be everywhere at once nor do I have the resources to spend time doing pro-bono healthy jobsite screening. Far better to focus on the prospects and clients that DO value safety and will choose a compliant contractor to get it, or who will choose me for all of the other things I bring to the table and get safety as icing on the cake.

I also resent being handed a rule whose methods go far beyond what’s necessary for lead safety AND being asked to help publicize and enforce it. Give me a break–If you believe in your rule then you’ll enforce it. If you don’t, it will become all too clear over the next few years.

You might say, “The homeowner needs to be held accountable.”

If I’m trying to sign a project and I educate the homeowner about lead safety and RRP but they choose a non-complying firm (i.e.-a price based selection) then obviously I’m not the contractor for them. It’s the same for someone who knowingly hires an unlicensed contractor. You either want a professional company, and the benefits that go along with that, or you don’t.

As a contractor do you really want the reputation of being a snitch when someone doesn’t choose you for their project? Is turning them in going to be seen as a form of punishment? To me that’s not a very positive association and not something I want to be known for.

As I see it, being a responsible citizen contractor means approaching the issue from the demand side. An educated consumer who understands lead hazards and demands safe practices should be the goal of any lead safe program. Those of us who have networks and influence in our communities do have an obligation to reach out and educate the remodeling consumer about these issues.

There are two ways to motivate change–the carrot and the stick. One question I might pose, as it’s one that I’ve been thinking a lot about, is how lead safety could have been incentivized. I don’t have the answer to that–but I think a demand sided, incentive approach could have kept a whole lot more kids safe than the mess we have now. Carrots don’t always come cheap though.

But that stick is a powerful force too, isn’t it—and pays for itself. We all do more to avoid pain than gain pleasure so the prospect of heavy fines and punishment would no doubt change the behavior of the vast majority of contractors who are out there poisoning kids—IF there were broad reaching awareness and enforcement. However, without that awareness and enforcement this approach does more harm than good. The system in place all but guarantees poor enforcement–even with contractors turning each other in. Someone still has to show up and take a look and it’s clear there aren’t enough tin stars around to even come close. This dynamic will allow the small operator to fly under the radar and have little motivation to come out from under the table.

Are there circumstances I might report someone for non-compliance? Certainly. I don’t believe in absolutes. But I have no time to be the EPA’s enforcer on my own dime. But like Chris (RCP), if circumstances present a jobsite or contractor who is blatantly working outside the rule I might make the call–much the way I’d call in a non-permitted job. But I’m not going to go driving the neighborhood looking for it.

Christopher Wright, CR – WrightWorks, LLC – Named to the 2010 REMODELING Big50
www.WrightWorks.net Indianapolis Remodeling Contractor Facebook Twitter Formspring.me
“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” –Voltaire


  1. Dissertate? I looked it up to make sure I understood the meaning. Microsoft says it’s spelled correctly but has no definition! Wow!

    We decided to use the word “desert” (no… not the noun – the verb). And, we are 100% compliant. We, like many other very conscientious and qualified remodelers in town, choose to just stop working on pre 1978 homes.

    Your statement about “WE” is right-on! We (little we) were already taking many of the precautions. Due to the risks involved with the ruling, “we” have now removed ourselves from that market. I don’t believe the consumer is better protected nor is the “WE” better represented by our absence.

    Also, we don’t need to drive around looking for non-compliance. If we turned it down because it was an RRP candidate – WE know where it is.

    Good post Chris!


  2. You make good points and I agree the best thing is to keep yourself involved in your business and let the EPA handle enforcement or not.

    Its hard to consider turning in offenders when the EPA will not enforce, they will enforce against compliant contractors though.

    What a mess.

  3. Paul – here’s the definition of:

    dissertate – to talk at length and formally about a topic.

    The EPA Lead Rule seems like one more big conspiracy to get everyone reliant upon the government.

    I suppose the lead has been such a bad issue for people that the law or rule needed to be made? hmm…perhaps.

    It just sounds more like a big pain in the ass for everyone.
    It’s never fun when you have someone tell you what to do when you’re practically already doing it. When that happens, the task just become more of an obligation and you feel you’re being watched; when before, it was out of habit and commonsensical (Paul, do you want the definition to this? kidding, kidding!).

    Chris, so long as you keep those good looks and hard working manner, I think you’ll do just fine. The goverment will nail us all at some point in time.


  4. Melissa, I think the lead rule is superfluous, those of us that were careful and left clean jobs will continue to do so and those that are careless in the regard for their clients will continue to do the same thing.
    Only, it will be the compliant contractors that end up getting busted.


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