A new certification requirement for lead renovation contractors stirred panic and complaint last month among the non-union sector of the industry. With the help of the LIUNA Training and Education Fund, things went easier for LIUNA signatory contractors.

Enacted two years ago, the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandate – effective April 22 – requires contractors to secure EPA certification for ongoing renovation work in homes, child care facilities and schools built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was taken off the market. Contractors must fill out an application, pay a fee and stipulate that their work will be performed by certified employees following EPA’s Renovation, Repair and Painting  (RRP) rule. Since the implementation date of the rule was initially two years off, some contractors apparently delayed applying until the last minute. Then, facing a logjam last month, they complained about the requirement and claimed that it would add excessive cost to renovation work. The EPA, to its credit, did not back down.

Long ago anticipating the deadline and preparing to assist signatory contractors in meeting it, LIUNA Training applied for and pursued EPA-accreditation for its Lead Renovator Curriculum. The curriculum, which won EPA approval on April 1, offers twice the amount of hands-on training as typical private training programs and focuses in detail on all the regulatory requirements of OSHA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the EPA. LIUNA Training will focus its national EPA-accreditation on assisting local, affiliated training funds and their instructors in obtaining their own accreditation for the development of training.  Laborers who successfully complete the 16-hour course earn individual certification which is good for five years.

RRP is a response to ongoing health problems associated with lead-based paint. Lead-based paint has not been brushed on walls in decades, but exposure continues to be a source of serious health issues, particularly in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that 25 percent of U.S. youngsters under the age of six live in homes or apartments where exposure to lead-based paint is “significant.” The paint becomes a health hazard when it deteriorates and starts to flake.

Lead is highly toxic. High blood lead levels can be fatal. Low blood lead levels can be life-altering. In addition to the kidneys, the nervous and reproductive systems can also be harmed. Lead also increases the risk for high blood pressure. Learning disabilities, behavior problems and reduced IQ in children have also been linked to high lead levels.

Sources of lead exposure include drinking water circulating through older pipes and faucets, soil and, sometimes, toys and cosmetics. However, lead-contaminated paint dust – inhaled or ingested while eating, drinking or smoking without having first washed hands – is responsible for most of today’s lead-related health problems.

The CDC and AAP recommend that children of parents who work with lead be considered for screening, and that immigrant, refugee, and other foreign-born children be tested when they enter the United States. Check with your local health department about lead screening guidelines in your community.

The dust problem is why a new study is of particular importance to Laborers. It finds kidney damage occurring in children with blood lead levels well below ten micrograms per deciliter of blood, the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently mandate corrective measures. The study indicates kidney impairment occurs at blood lead levels as low as 2.9 micrograms per deciliter.

Since sanding, cutting and demolition can create lead-contaminated paint dust, Laborers involved in remodeling, tear-downs and bridge repair are at increased risk of exposure. And if they do not follow proper clean-up procedures, they could increase the risk for their children as well.

OSHA standard 1926.62 addresses this issue. In addition to establishing a variety of rules for lead removal and disposal, the standard requires employers to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) and clean, protective work clothing, ensure that workers change out of work clothing before leaving the jobsite and require showers before leaving work at the end of the day. These hygienic measures are in place to prevent workers from bringing lead into their own homes and exposing their families.

As the new study shows, minimal amounts of lead can impact health. Medical therapies sometimes help, but many times, the damage is irreversible.

Symptoms of lead poisoning may include:

  • Abdominal pain and cramping (usually the first sign of a high, toxic dose of lead poison)
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Anemia
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of developmental skills (in young children)
  • Low appetite and energy
  • Reduced sensory perception

High levels of lead may cause vomiting, staggering walk, muscle weakness, seizures or coma.

Lead poisoning is preventable. Good hygiene is the most effective weapon for protecting yourself, your children and other loved ones. Stay clean and stay safe.

Additional information on RRP is on the EPA website. This is also where LIUNA signatory contractors can find certification application forms by clicking Renovation Firm. The locations and contact information for LIUNA training centers can be found at the LIUNA Training website. Mt. Sinai’s Guidelines for Managing Lead Control Programs in Construction and the EPA’s Small Entity Compliance Guide to Renovate Right may be useful for LIUNA signatory renovation contractors as well.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]