U.S. EPA announced Friday that it decided against a proposed rule that would have required contractors to test dust to prove the absence of lead following renovations.
The announcement was immediately criticized by public health advocates but applauded by Senate Republicans, who said the requirement -- while well intended -- would have put an undue economic burden on contractors.
At issue is EPA's Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP). EPA issued proposed revisions to the rule in May 2010 that included the dust testing requirement. Late Friday, however, EPA said it opted against the provision when it issued its final rule.
"EPA has decided not to promulgate dust wipe testing and clearance requirements as proposed," EPA said.
LRRP was first established in April 2010 and required contractors to obtain certification in lead-safe work practices before renovating properties built before 1978, when lead was banned from residential use (Greenwire, April 23, 2010).
Lead in homes continues to pose significant health risks to the nervous system, particularly in children. Despite the ban, EPA has said it is still present in millions of homes built before 1978.
EPA said the current LRRP provisions have been effective, making the clearance testing needless.
"After carefully weighing all available science and considering the public comments, EPA has concluded that the existing lead-safe work practices and clean up requirements ... will protect people from lead dust Hazards," the agency said in a statement. "Therefore, it is not necessary to impose new lead-dust testing or clearance requirements."
Republicans, led by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), had been critical of the proposed clearance testing proposal and claimed victory after the final rule was issued late Friday.
"The intent of the rule, public health protection especially for children and pregnant women, is something everyone supports, but it needs to happen in a way that does not place costly or confusing burdens on those trying to implement it," Inhofe said in a statement.
Inhofe led a group of Republican senators in sending a letter to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in April lobbying against the clearance testing mandate (Greenwire, April 28).
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) called EPA's decision a "major victory for small business owners nationwide saddled with needlessly onerous regulations that are stifling their ability to grow and prosper during these difficult economic times."
However, environmental groups said they were disappointed, and some said the agency caved to pressure from Republicans.
"Children's health advocates are disheartened that EPA chose not to strengthen the rule and better protect kids by requiring clearance dust testing after renovation work," Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), said in a statement.
NCHH went on to call for homeowners and rental property owners to require their own clearance testing after renovations of residences constructed before 1978.
EPA made several other changes in the final rule that are likely to be applauded by green groups and public health advocates.
The agency required renovators to build a containment wall of plastic sheeting or other similar material to prevent the spread of lead dust outside the work zone.
The final rule also says uncertified workers should be trained by certified renovators in lead-safe work practices and that certified renovators should ensure their workers contain lead dust and debris.
The agency also authorized states to charge higher penalties for noncompliance.
Click here to read EPA's final rule.