Contractors making changes
BY ROBERT EVATT World Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
8/12/10 at 10:03 AM
If head-to-toe protective suits don't make it clear that workers are following the EPA's new regulations on lead paint, the copy of their certification taped a nearby wall does.
Yes, posting the certificate is one of the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, too, said Bill Powers of Powers Design and Build.
His renovation work on a home at 2443 E. 23rd St. is one of the first local implementations of a new EPA regulation that requires all homes built before 1978 under renovation by professional contractors be tested for lead paint. Crews must follow a series of safety precautions during paint removal if the property tests positive.
In fact, Powers said the EPA is encouraging renovators to err on the side of caution.
"They told us that the best thing to do is to assume there's lead and act accordingly," he said.
Although Powers and many other contractors say they're able to handle the new rule's procedural changes, it's still unclear how many have not been able to get certification yet, or how many are giving up work on older houses entirely.
Ken Saltink, president of the Remodelers Council at the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa, said Tulsa finally has an official trainer who can provide certification on the lead paint rule. The trainer, Brant Pitchford, offers certification classes via the association twice monthly.
Saltink said Pitchford charges $125 per class for HBA members and $185 for non-members, but other trainers may have different fees.
"There's a real need for the classes, given the stock of older houses we have here," Saltink said.
While there were widespread complaints about a lack of trainers in the area before the rule went into effect April 22, Saltink said most of the 100-plus members of the remodelers council have gotten certification — although they mostly represent larger remodeling companies.
"The reputable ones have done all they can to become certified," he said. "If a person is established in the business, they're going to go ahead and do it. Those who are working out of the back of a truck might not."
Add in many small, part-time remodeling companies and the number who are certified could be less than 25 percent of the total, Saltink said.
Bob Curtis of the one-man company Bob's Home Repair said he has gotten certification with his frequent partner Tom Huff of Huff Home Services, but he said it's still difficult for his peers to get into the classes.
"There's a lot of small guys like Tom and I, and it would be more helpful to have more training opportunities available," he said.
Before Tulsa got a permanent trainer, local classes had to be conducted by trainers brought in from other cities.
Curtis said many smaller contractors are simply giving up work on older homes for now rather than spend the time and money for certification, or are doing jobs without certification.
"Some are sitting it out and waiting, and some quite frankly are less aware of the impact of the regulation," he said.
Powers said the EPA will levy fines of up to $37,000 per day per incident for improper lead paint removal, but that might not be enough to keep some contractors from sneaking around the rule.
"There's no consequences for the owner," he said. "They can accept a low bid from someone who won't follow the regulations."
Saltink said he's concerned that the EPA will use a heavy hand in cracking down. Although he's been told the EPA will only check for compliance through paperwork, he has noticed the agency has set up a hot line for people to call and report violations.
"The whistleblower gets a portion of what EPA collects in fines," he said. "That's very disturbing to me."
He said there have not been any fines issued to date. Then again, part of the EPA's regulations included a one-time, 60-day period during which homes whose occupants do not include pregnant women or children under 6 can opt out of the regulations.
The 60-day period expires later this month.
Powers said the owners of the home on 23rd Street have chosen to opt out of the lead paint regulation, though his company is following the rules anyway to prepare his workers.
Estimates of how much the regulations will add to renovation bills also vary. Powers said it may only add 5 percent to the cost of major renovations that involve more work than just paint removal, but 30 percent to smaller jobs heavily involved in lead paint, such as repainting or window installation.
As for the extra work, Powers said the regulations will extend the paint removal process at the house on 23rd Street from three to five days, though he estimated the company will spend six months total working on the home.
In addition to requiring disposable painter suits and plastic sheets over a room's windows and doors, the regulations call for using vacuums with filters over the exhaust, requesting that workers shower immediately after returning home, sealing trash bags containing work waste and putting adhesive tape at the entrances to pick up paint flecks.
Powers said he's supportive of the regulations, since studies indicate lead poisoning can cause a drop in IQ, learning problems and aggressiveness in children, as well as memory loss and mood shifts in adults.
"The whole thing is about containing lead," he said. "This makes the process safer for everyone involved."
Robert Evatt 581-8447
Allen Jordan and Ron Willhite remove trim during a lead paint removal exercise at a home near 23rd Street and Lewis Avenue on Tuesday. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World
A sign hangs near the room that is being used for lead paint removal training at a home near 23rd Street and Lewis Avenue on Tuesday. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World