By Matthew DalyAssociated Press
WASHINGTON Contractors across the country must take additional precautions when renovating houses where children could be exposed to lead dust from old paint, a safety measure that could add thousands of dollars to projects just as the remodeling industry tries to recover from the recession.
A federal rule that takes effect today forces contractors to use “lead-safe” practices when working on homes, day-care centers and schools built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned for residential use because of health risks. Many contractors complain that the government has not provided enough trainers to help them meet the deadline and want it extended.
“The country is not ready for this,” said Donna Shirey, president of Shirey Contracting in Issaquah, Wash., and the chairwoman of a remodelers council for the National Association of Home Builders.
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About 800 NAHB members were in Washington for the group’s spring meeting, and many were making an eleventh-hour attempt to lobby lawmakers for a delay for the rule.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the lead paint rule in 2008 because more than a million American children a year are at risk of being poisoned by lead-based paint in their homes, leading to learning disorders and behavioral problems, EPA spokesman Dale Kemery said. Two years was adequate time to prepare and the agency is sticking to its timetable, Kemery said.
Workers will have to be certified as lead-safe by the EPA and wear special gear outfitted with air filters, goggles and hoods. Work sites will have to be protected with heavy plastic and cleaned thoroughly with special vacuums, with warning signs posted.
“It’s going to look like there’s astronauts in the yard,” said Charlie Dorsey, regional sales manager for Gorell Windows and Doors, a Pennsylvania company that makes replacement windows.
While most newer structures do not have lead-based paint, an estimated 38 million homes built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint.
If not detected early, high levels of lead exposure can damage the brain and nervous system, result in behavior and learning problems such as hyperactivity, or cause slow growth. Lead also can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, nervous disorders and memory problems in adults.