Lead Alert: How Lead-Based Materials Have Changed the Way Contractors Operate

Lead poisoning is a serious health issue arising from the presence of lead-based paints or dust particles in homes and materials that can result in devastating bodily dysfunction and even death. In the last 50 years, officials imposed laws on the construction and renovation of commercial and residential buildings to reduce the possibility of health risks. It has significantly impacted the way contractors operate throughout the process of renovating. 

Now, contractors and construction workers have strict regulations and rules to follow when completing a project where lead-based materials are present. They are responsible for understanding, implementing, and following rules throughout the process, required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These regulations help to ensure the safety of workers and property residents from the harm of lead poisoning. 

Laws and Regulations

The United States banned the use of lead-based paints and materials in new construction in 1978. Since then, government officials implement and update laws regularly to reduce the negative impact of these materials on the health of citizens. The EPA has strict guidelines and training that require compliance from general and specialized contractors.

The presence of lead dust particles is detrimental to the health of humans and the environment.  Air, water, and soil quality can all be negatively impacted, and harm can befall other non-human organisms. According to the EPA, some of the most critical pieces of legislation for contractors to be aware of include:

  1. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 – Provides the EPA with authority to require reporting, testing, and restrictions relating to chemical substances or mixtures, including lead and lead-based materials.
  2. Residential Lead-Based Paint Reduction Act of 1992 – Requires the disclosure of the presence of lead-based materials in homes or buildings built before 1978 and assists contractors renovating properties containing lead materials financially.
  3. 2008 Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Program – A collection of rules and regulations contractors must follow to minimize the risk of lead exposure and contamination. 
  4. Other laws to consider before renovation:
    • Clean Air Act
    • Clean Water Act
    • Safe Drinking Water Act
    • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
    • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act

Following RRP Program Rules

Contractors who do not follow the rules or complete the requirements of the EPA can face serious consequences. Fines and possible revocation of business licenses or permits may arise if the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) finds a contractor to be in violation of these policies.

Requirements

The EPA has two distinct requirements for contractors before any demolition, renovation, or construction can begin:

EPA Certification

The EPA must certify any firm participating in lead abatement or renovation activities before any lead-based materials can be disturbed. Contractors acquire this certification through the EPA’s online portal. If this certification expires, contractors are at risk of being fined up to $37,500 per day per violation, so it is best to stay up to date with certifications.

Lead-Based Renovator Certification

Aside from the EPA Certification, contracting firms must also become certified lead-based renovators through proper training. Lead-based renovators are responsible for upholding compliance throughout the duration of a construction project. 

Lead-Based Renovation Best Practices

  1. Before the Renovation

Before renovations begin, contractors must ensure that the inhabitants of the property have safe and reliable access to kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and living spaces away from the work area. If this is not possible, alternative housing arrangements must be made for the property owners before the project begins to protect from the possibility of lead inhalation and poisoning.

Contractors must also utilize a certified lead inspector and risk assessor to inspect the affected area, determine the presence of lead, and quantify the risk of contamination if the project proceeds.

  1. Protect Workers

When lead materials are present in a home renovation project, it is not just the residents of the property whose health is at risk. Contamination can be severe or deadly, so it’s vitally important to protect workers by using the proper protective equipment like respirator masks, goggles, and gloves.

Other helpful ways to protect construction workers from possible lead exposure include continuously testing air quality, setting up designated handwashing and shower locations, and providing a space to change in and out of “work clothes” during the project duration. These actions minimize cross-contamination in the homes and communities of construction workers.

  1. Contain the Work Area

Contractors must utilize protective barriers like tarps and heavy plastic sheeting to trap in dust particles and minimize contamination of other parts of the home or building.

Containing the work area also means holding workers accountable for their tools and other belongings. Power tools and other materials can only be used within the confines of the space under construction. 

  1. Minimize Dust

Any renovation involving sanding, sawing, drilling, or blasting is going to produce some level of dust. Contractors now have to work tirelessly to minimize the dust in the workspace to protect both workers and residents.

The use of tools such as wet sanders and misters help to dampen down any dust created by the construction. Vacuum attachments are implemented in power sanders or grinders to contain the spread of any particles. Hammering should always be kept to a minimum; Instead, contractors now pry apart materials that need to be broken up.

  1. Clean Work Areas and Dispose of Waste Properly

Throughout the construction process, work areas should be cleaned daily or even multiple times a day. To avoid tracking lead dust out of the work area, keep any waste materials wrapped in plastic within the workspace until the day of work ends, and they can be disposed of appropriately.

Tarps or heavy plastic that can easily be removed or thrown away should lay wherever workers need to walk outside of the workspace. All lead-based materials must be appropriately disposed of to minimize exposure to the surrounding environment. 

Training

Before any construction can begin, contractors must obtain proper EPA-certified training. Private training companies offer training programs for a wide variety of industries and contractor subcategories.

Industries Requiring Certification

General contractors are not the only workers required to complete training and certification. These rules are upheld across the following construction trades:

  • Residential property owners and managers
  • Commercial property owners and managers
  • General contractors
  • Painters
  • Plumbers
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Other special trade contractors

Lead-Based Material Certification Courses

Multiple types of lead certifications and refresher courses exist. Training should be completed and repeated as necessary across the following topics to ensure every step of the construction process concludes  safely:

Conclusion

Lead contamination and poisoning can pose serious health hazards to residents, workers, and contractors. It’s essential to know the current rules and regulations necessary to follow to ensure proper safety and hazard reduction in construction projects where lead-based materials are present. Continue to procure this knowledge and keep workers safe by participating in safety training courses regularly.