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Lead Training Confusing? You betcha!

Short Stories

Here’s a couple good news/bad news articles worth your consideration. Last Tuesday the New York Times did a nice piece on a study that details the cost savings of energy retrofits. That should provide a boost to weatherization and energy efficiency efforts like NYSERDA’s Green Jobs Green New York Initiative. Then on Thursday, Scientific American published an article on another study by the Blacksmith Institute that details the world’s ten worst toxic pollution problems. It should come as no surprise that environmental lead exposure holds four of the ten spots.

The Rest…

I guess the silver lining here is that we’ve recognized the awful impact that lead has had on public health and that efforts to reduce exposure have continued, in spite of the current economic-client. Perhaps we’d be in better shape if they had been more careful about lead abatement in Washington back in the early 90’s….

Toward that end, I’d like to focus today’s time on disparities in Federal and Local lead training and certification requirements. This has gotten rather confusing since release of the EPA RRP, especially in places like New York City, where existing lead regulation already prescribed training for those involved in lead hazard control.

First, let’s lay out the basic differences between the Federal agencies requirements. I started out a history major in college, so I tend to look at things from a chronological perspective. Also, I’m assuming that we’re talking about relevant situations here and won’t spend a lot of ink repeating “Title X”, “pre-1978” or “lead based paint” a million times.
In 1996, EPA set forth standards for lead hazard control professions, including those who perform evaluations (i.e. inspectors & risk assessors), abatement (i.e. workers and supervisors) and design (i.e. project designers). Certification involves attending accredited training, applying to EPA and for the inspector, risk assessor and supervisor, taking a third party exam. Firms must also be certified which is accomplished via application to EPA. Those conducting inspections, risk assessments or clearance must be inspector or risk assessor certified, those conducting abatement must be certified as workers or supervisors, and each project must have supervisor oversight. That was obvious, I know.

In 1999, HUD’s Lead Safe Housing Rule requires most of those involved in Federally-assisted housing activities that disturb lead based paint to attend an acceptable 8 hour “lead safe work practices” training course. Those involved in housing rehabilitation projects where the hard cost of rehab exceeds $25,000 must be EPA certified firms using certified lead abatement personnel. These practices are also generally adopted amongst communities and organizations receiving grant assistance from HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes & Lead Hazard Control.

IN 2004, NYC implements Local Law 1of 2004, which requires that landlords perform repairs to presumed or known lead based paint using lead safe work practices with personnel who have completed the 8 hour lead safe work practice training consistent with aforementioned HUD LSHR requirements. LL1‘04 further mandates that those conducting lead hazard control in response to a lead violation are EPA abatement certified.

Millie, the Bush’s Cocker Spaniel was allegedly lead poisoned during abatement at the White House

In 2010, the EPA Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule takes effect. RRP mandates that firms conducting renovation in target housing or child occupied facilities obtain firm certification (in addition to the abatement firm certification) and that each firm identify a certified Renovator to take responsibility for compliance with the regulation.

Renovators are certified by attending accredited training. Note that the Renovator gets certified by completing training and does not have to apply to EPA. Workers are not required to attend the aforementioned HUD lead safe work practices training. Rather the Renovator is required to provide “non-certified worker” training, which seems to top out at 4 hours, max. Lead safe work practices training satisfies the RRP non-certified worker training, btw.

Sooo…..now we’re looking at a situation where HUD funded housing organizations have worked to get their contractors (and their staff) qualified for lead safe work practices and/or abatement, and find themselves non-compliant for the Renovator certification and over compliant for the non-certified worker training. Same situation in NYC, where the City has undertaken a huge effort to qualify thousand of contractors, workers and building professionals in lead safe work practices, but is now short on EPA qualified Renovators.

To truly satisfy Federal requirements for federally assisted housing a Contractor/Renovator would need to be certified as a Renovator and Supervisor (if conducting abatement) and send all workers to 8 hour lead safe work practices. Likewise in NYC, except that the vast majority of landlords and contractors would be best served with the Renovators certification, with 8 hour lead safe work practices for their staff. The City could actually drop the requirement for abatement qualifications for violations, since RRP addresses the concerns that lead to the City mandate in the first place. The exception might be elevated blood level situations, wherein EPA mandates abatement.

Regulatory agencies tend to play leapfrog, whereby an agency, like HUD or NYCHPD for example, adopts standards in the absence of EPA requirements. Once EPA implements their requirements, aspects of the HUD/HPD standards may be obsolete, although it’s understandable that HUD & NYC wouldn’t backtrack on elements of their rules that are more protective than say, the RRP. That’s certainly the case for worker training, and clearance (although we’ve already discussed that!). Bottom line is that HUD and NYC need to update and clarify their rules and requirements.

The upside of this process, beyond keeping constituents from breaking Federal and local laws, is a more streamlined process of qualifying individuals and firms who work in this important industry and a less Byzantine process by which housing organizations and property owners can obtain lead hazard control services. It’s also important to note that the EPA collects application fees for individual evaluation and abatement certifications and for renovation and abatement firm certifications. That conservatively amounts to approximately $15,000,000 in fee revenue over every three year period, just for certifications.

We’ve been encouraging New York State officials to take a look at this, in perhaps the same light as the State’s asbestos training program. The State does an excellent job of ensuring that individuals are qualified, and that asbestos-related activities are performed in a manner that does not endanger workers, building occupants or the general public. It’s certainly worth some thought, given the absence of enforcement at EPA for RRP violations in this State. Take a look at this link from the Fiscal Times that discusses what happens to small businesses when rules aren’t enforced.

This might not be the sexiest subject matter these days, but these adjustments are critical if we expect to reach our national desire to permanently reduce or eliminate lead poisoning. It’s a process of refining the good work that’s been done to date and, when complete, ultimately contributes to everyone’s fiscal, social and environmental well-being.