EPA Lead Rules and the Monkees of Nikko Toshogo


“See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil”
By Paul Lesieur

10049847Although it’s true origins remain debated this phrase was put into practice in the form of three monkeys carved, one with its hands over its eyes, one with its hands over its ears, and another with its hands over its mouth, for the Nikko Toshogo Shrine in Japan.

This April contractors will struggle for understanding and proper implementation of the EPA lead guidelines for the building industry. This is a move to better protect people from this heavy metal.

We should have had safe lead practices in place years ago.

See no evil kept unsafe workplace processes in play far longer than we should have allowed, and as a veteran of many demolitions I am sure I have some symptoms from ingesting lead. But we chose not to see what was happening and people, especially children suffered the harmful effects of high lead levels.

Hear no evil was what occurred when scientists and doctors published their studies on the effects of high lead levels in people and pets. The writing was there and voices spoke out against careless lead use and poor control of its containment or disposal but few chose to hear what the health workers said.

Speak no evil was the worst, knowing what was happening and not joining the chorus to stop these unsafe practices.

Now in April we start a hysterical attempt to control the damage, at an economic cost that may compound the problem. Knee-jerk attempts to rectify the problem quickly by encapsulating lead tainted debris in plastic will add cost and inconvenience and the people performing the work will be poorly trained and ill equipped to properly determine if they are actually keeping lead dust contained. In time we will discover good work practices concerning lead control but that’s likely a few years away.

Until we get a plan I will follow the safe practices described but as a member of the building community I hope we improve our approach that we quickly share smart practices so we can get past the SNAFU that will begin in April 2010.

Update – some more thought on the issue Hey, Hey we’re the Monkees! #2


  1. Paul- I’m confused. You start out well with strong words for our industry and the regulatory agency that is supposed to protect us from ourselves. But, then you fall into a mash of nonsense about economic burden? Isn’t the point that these practices should have been in place for years along with their associated costs? What is the alternative? You fail to present any other solutions. So what is the point? Are you telling the remodeling community to quit complaining and get compliant or telling the EPA that they shouldn’t bother with solutions because they are in your (un explained opinion) knee-jerk? How about addressing the proposed solution’s pros and cons for some constructive commentary.

  2. OK Michael, what I’m saying is EPA rules for lead control is long overdue. Also I’m saying I endorse proper procedures for containment and disposal. Lets add I am willing to brainstorm to make this a easily compliant mandate.

    Now about my reservations.
    We take an 8 hour class that mostly discusses using a large of amount of plastic in a heavy traffic area. Then we test and prep areas for the presence of lead before work begins and after work is done and cleaned up. This is in itself an easily compromised result.

    The knee jerk response I speak of is we now will bag with miles of plastic (which is easily ripped) and move the debris where?2 The labor involved for the bagging will exceed the cost of some smaller 2jobs and we will have to consider more than one dumpster for disposal.

    A possible solution now might be to try a few different methods for controlling lead. Maybe clean before and with a Hepa filter vac go over the entire job before final testing. Faster and easier to control collection that way.

    Questions remain on whether the proposed solution for containment and disposal will be effective. If your for all this bagging then hurrah for you, but now is when the trade groups and even the blog groups should share thoughts on another approach, even to the point of testing different scenarios in working safely with lead.

    And yes it will be an economic burden to many, maybe not to your customers but it will be to the homeowners who barely able to afford home upkeep will not be even further removed dollar wise from doing maintenance and replacement properly. Oh, wait a minute, that’s what unlicensed contractors are for.

    You want a better solution? We can come up with that, but before you accuse me of not thinking this through answer this.
    Does the existing approach to safe lead practices meet all your criteria?

    Then maybe you decide if were there yet, me, I think were just waking up to a SNAFU of titanic proportions.

  3. Come on Paul you know all we have to do is educate the homeowner of the dangers of lead in there homes..

    Educate the Remodelers on what they need to do prepare for the new rule and how to estimate the cost into thier jobs.

    Educate our insurance companies on what to charge and not charge us for on our policies..

    Educate our subs on what classes to take and how to work this into their bids

    Educate the hacks on not to underbid us by not following the rules pertaining to the EPA rule and making our job even harder..

    Educate our organizations on educating us on how to educate everybody on the importance of education.

    Educate our local building inspectors that have not even heard about this new rule..

    How hard is that?? you need to take a more positive stance on this rule from the people leading the industry..

    I honestly think you just need more education..

  4. Michael,

    The RRP Rule has been a topic of much discussion over the last several months within the contractor community, as we’ve all tried to get our collective heads around the repercussions it will bring. I’m assuming you’re not so naive to think this won’t have a significant impact on the average contractor who works in older homes.

    Have you read the rule completely and are you familiar with the research that went into it? Have you been through the training? I’m curious to know your level of knowledge on the subject. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but as a subscriber to your Tweets I’ve noticed this subject has been conspicuously absent from your voluminous updates on the green movement. If I’ve missed something significant then I apologize.

    Many in the remodeling community consider you a primary expert on the subject, so I’m curious to hear about how you reconcile the indirect impact this rule will have on plastics in the environment, recycled materials, and old house redevelopment. There’s certainly no disputing the efficacy of establishing lead-safe practices for the remodeling community–but much of this rule amounts to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  5. How will this impact the value of older homes? I’m looking at purchasing a home next year that was built in the late 60’s.

    Is it going to cost me more to do remodeling than a home 12 years newer?

    Also how will this impact do it yourselfers? Can I do my own demolition, what resources will be available to me for safe removal?

    • That is the worst part of this! As I understand, if you are a homeowner, you are not obligated to do anything special. You don’t have to pay someone extra to dispose of all that hazardous waste, just throw it in the trash! Don’t get your home tested either, because then you are legally obligated to report it if you sell.

  6. Personally,I still expect last minute
    court orders, challenges,stays and
    rule changes/modifications.
    Meantime I’ll work on certification,
    and try to figure out the most efficient,
    and low stress work methods to comply…..

    This would be the first time in my life
    any such sweeping change in the industry
    went forward without a hitch or delay.

    Just sayin’.

  7. Len, under the rule it will cost more to renovate your older home–unless you choose to hire a contractor who doesn’t comply. As this rule becomes more widely publicized older homes will likely, to some extent, be stigmatized for both the increased cost of renovating them and fears of lead poisoning. Property values are already depressed–the timing couldn’t be worse.

    As contractors, we’ve been painted into a corner. For this to have any hope of working for us–there MUST be good enforcement and public awareness. Otherwise, there’s far too much temptation for companies to skirt the rule in hopes of not getting caught.

    The flip side of good enforcement, however, will very likely be devastating to property values and inner city re-development. We already have a ton of old homes sitting vacant in our inner cities. Under these rules the money required to renovate and make them useful again just won’t make sense (particularly if they’re in a HUD program). This will likely result in many being demolished.

    • Precisely why I think
      there will be court challenges
      when more people become aware
      of what the rules really are.
      I think awareness is still
      VERY limited, as evidenced by
      the current lack of information
      from insurers.

  8. I could not agree with you more Chris.
    With the recent downturn in the economy and the reduction in housing prices this could not have come at a worse time perticularly for inner city properties which tend to be older properties. I am a proponent of green building and best practices but this will only lead to more properties being torn down than renovated and re used. the cost of bringing these properties up to standard will be more than they will be worth. I always thought one of the tenents of green construction was preservation and reducing waste. I can only see this leading to more waste.

  9. This topic has pretty much got my blood boiling & it started with that mandated joke of a class. Don’t even bother getting me started on the “certified firms” where it is simply, fill out this form, send us a check & we will gladly add you to our database.

    This whole thing has gone from what should have been – here are a few simple things to help protect the people in the house you’re working on & your workers into “we are not going to classify it as hazardous waste” but we are going to make you treat it like asbestos. This is going to probably turn into a nightmare for contractors as all the trial lawyers start getting involved.

  10. The first stage of this law went into effect December 2008 and it seems as though no one, that being the know it alls, the gurus, industry leaders, has heard of it.

    My overhead has already been affected because I provide a copy of the Renovate Right pamphlet to my clients, 2 of my employees have attended the certification training, I sent in my $300.00 to receive my Firm certification, and have spent numerous hours researching the program and communicating with my insurance broker, who was clueless in regards to the “law”.

  11. If the regs push down the value of city homes it will be interesting to see what happens in terms of demolishing them.

    After all, aren’t you creating a huge amount of dust when you demo a whole structure? Do the new regs address this?

    I think the new regs are overboard. I’d be willing to bet I could take my normal jobsite procedures with mimimal modifications and pass a lead test.

    They were obviously written by people without extensive remodeling knowledge. How do you work on top of heavy duty plastic spread on the floor? That stuff is more slippery than a bowling alley.

  12. So lets see, increased labor costs, increased material costs, increased insurance costs, the costs of proper training, the costs of supervision of this work, EPA fines (not to mention more OSHA regulations that I’m sure will come in regards to this work), the lawyers are licking their chops, and diminished property values. What else can we do to screw with the stability of our industry?

    I don’t mind some more awareness being efforted here with suggested methods of handling but I don’t think more government involvement is what we need in our lives right now. There has to be an easier way to implement some changes in the way we work to satisfy all parties. I can guarantee that if this procedes as it currently stands that it won’t stop there. Special interest groups always want more.

  13. This is clearly a law that was implemented out of emotion by the EPA. And it is obvious that the EPA did not involve and work with the correct parties when writting the new rules. Union Heads do not count.

    What this could do to America’s housing market bothers me. Renovations and repairs are expensive. Even at today’s pricing many find it difficult to come up with the money for needed repairs. Added cost could force many homes into delapitation and/or abandonment especially homes in the inner cities and investment properties.

    I think think the new rules are going to turn many good contractors into criminals because they can not afford the EPA course and certification. Most of us live in areas where we can sustain enough business to stay afloat. But what about the contractors who live in dieing areas of our country. Area where it is just not possible to pass additional cost onto customers because the money just isn’t there.

    As for the Painters who do exterior work–Your probably better off investing in a good break and learning how to install siding.

  14. I think Dusty was right on when he said: “This is clearly a law that was implemented out of emotion”. Lots of good intentions here, but little in the way of real experience and the practical knowledge required to do it in a sensible and economically feasible way. Unfortunately, this regulation, like many others under this current administration, will break our backs due to poorly thought out plans for implementation, or perhaps a lack of any plan for implementation.

    How’s that hope and change going for you?

  15. The building community has been little help. Some contractors have said this will be a good way to separate ourselves from the unlicensed guys. Sure, they will be good guys to some people for keeping costs down.

    Some NARI leaders are saying this is good for NARI members, perhaps forgetting there are many good contractors out there who are not NARI members who feel differently.

    I took the class on Tuesday and it was even worse than I thought. We’ll have to support ourselves on this agenda, as an industry and that’s what I’m working to do.

  16. With the April 2010 EPA lead dust requirements fast
    approaching is important to remember the EPA’s
    recommendations for a lead safe work environment.
    Remember to follow these simple procedures:

    1. Contain the work area. Take steps to seal off the
    work area so that dust and debris do not escape.
    Warning signs should be put up and heavy-duty plastic
    and tape should be used to cover the floors and
    furniture and seal off doors and heating and cooling
    system vents.

    2. Minimize dust. Use work practices that minimize the
    dust generated during renovation and repair by using
    water to mist areas before sanding or scraping; scoring
    paint before separating components; and prying and
    pulling apart components instead of breaking them.
    Dangerous practices such as open flame burning or
    torching and using power tools without HEPA vacuum
    attachments are prohibited by the rule because they
    generate large amounts of lead-contaminated dust.

    3. Clean up thoroughly. Work diligently every day to
    keep the work area as clean as possible. When all the
    work is done, the area should be cleaned up using
    special cleaning methods including the use of a HEPA
    vacuum and wet mopping.

    April is right around the corner and certain elements
    are required now. If you don’t currently have a
    containment system in use, or if yours is slow to install,
    check out ZipWall’s new ZipPole system.

  17. It’s almost April and after reading and conversing with remodelers all of the country, it seems like the EPA rule is unknown or still confusing to most contractors, even the ones who have taken the class..

    There is still a large about of contractors and subcontractors that have no idea about the rule and are not certified as of yet..

    I think we are going to see a major fall out come April 22 2010….

    Lots of un-certified contractors, lack of public knowledge and enforcement are starting to make the deadline date look very unrealistic..


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