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Published: June, 2006; Vol 3, Num 1

LIUNA Funds Oppose EPA Lead Proposals

Expressing strong opposition to the proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on lead renovation and remodeling , the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America joined the Laborers-AGC Education and Training Fund in submitting comments on May 25, 2006.

Current rules for lead abatement date back to 1992. Then, concerned about the danger of lead to children under six, Congress enacted a law that assigned the EPA responsibility for developing regulations to address the public health hazards in lead-based paint. In 1996, the EPA issued its rules. However, drawing a distinction between activities designed to permanently remove lead (abatement) and those that may leave some of it in place (renovation and remodeling), the EPA chose not to regulate the latter.

Nevertheless, the EPA’s own assessments determined that tasks “that are routinely performed as part of renovation and remodeling activities can create significant amounts of leaded dust which, if not effectively contained and cleaned up, could pose hazards to the occupants.” The agency also determined that “settled dust samples indicated that there is potential for significant amounts of lead to be disturbed by renovation and remodeling activities, well over current EPA guidance of 100 ug/ft3 for floors.”

Thus, the EPA’s failure to issue renovation and remodeling regulations left a gap in the 1992 public health mandate. Under pressure from some in Congress, the agency now purports to address the gap with the proposed regulations that the LHSFNA and Laborers-AGC oppose.

The problem, according to the written comments of the two Funds, is the agency’s failure to recognize that the two lead remediation activities present the same hazard. Without citing any data that contradicts its own findings, “EPA is nonetheless proposing rules that treat renovation and remodeling as generically different from abatement, requiring less training, different work practices and weaker oversight.”

In contrast, the Funds state that appropriate regulations “must be based on the activity’s potential for generating high levels of lead dust.” It is this dust that creates a hazard for workers and for occupants of the building in question. If this criterion is used, the renovation and remodeling rules should be the same as the current abatement rules.

The Funds go on to explain that the proposed rules would “inevitably serve to undermine hazard abatement” compliance because “the distinction between abatement and renovation is not always a clear one. Contractors who seek to comply with the more-comprehensive abatement regulations and provide adequate protection to their employees and the public risk being squeezed out of the marketplace by less diligent contractors who may use semantics as an excuse for following the less stringent renovation rules.”

The Funds specifically attack the EPA plan to allow for a single individual certified as a “renovator” to supervise “uncertified workers” in renovation. Under current abatement regulations, all workers must be certified.

The Funds also attack the EPA plan to allow a number of lead removal techniques in renovation work that are prohibited by OSHA and have been adopted by the EPA in its abatement regulations. “Promulgating inconsistent regulations will only foster confusion and, ultimately, unsafe work practices.”

Similarly, the Funds strongly urge the EPA to require HEPA filter-equipped vacuums in renovation and remodeling work, as they are required by OSHA’s Lead in Construction Standard which has been incorporated into the EPA’s lead abatement rules.

In summary, the Funds cite the progress the nation has made in reducing exposure to lead. Data show that the decrease in lead in blood levels in the U.S. population between 1979 and 1999 has produced a cost savings of $319 billion from reductions in intelligence quotients alone. “On behalf of the members of LIUNA – men and women who labor at construction and their families – the Funds encourage EPA to take seriously its Congressional mandate to develop training and work practice standards that protect workers, children and the public at large from the hazards of lead. Given that EPA has found that renovation work generates significant health hazards, the Funds urge EPA to extend its abatement rules to renovation work.”

More information about lead hazards is available from the LHSFNA OSH Division at Bad Assumptions About Lead.