Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New lead paint law could hinder flood repairs

Contractors may be kept from work on old houses By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • May 26, 2010 Flood victims with older homes may have trouble getting them repaired after June 30, when a new federal law on lead paint will disqualify most of the state's contractors from doing the work. The law, which took effect just days before Tennessee's historic rainfall, requires all contractors who work on homes, schools and day cares built before 1978 to be certified in safe lead paint practices. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., requested a delay, saying the provision would hamper flood-recovery efforts and make repairs more expensive. On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a 35-day reprieve, a ruling Alexander said wasn't much help and didn't give a lot of time. "This exemption allows you to demolish your house, but not to renovate your flooded basement," Alexander said. "It still leaves the problem that thousands of contractors, repairmen and painters can't repair tens of thousands of buildings built before 1978, some flooded, some not flooded." In Nashville, more than 5,000 buildings and homes that were flooded were built before 1978, according to assessors' property records. State wide, about 750,000 homes were built before then. Flood victims who still need to tear out drywall, remove paint or do partial renovations could be in a bind if they have to wait until a certified contractor is available, because there aren't many. And their bills could double, given the strict mandates and expensive equipment required to do work on older homes. Plan 'not practical' Of the 50,000 contractors in Tennessee, only about 2,700 are certified in safe lead paint practices. One is Mike Warden, owner of Precision Handy Man in Nashville, who learned at a home repair expo last year that the mandate would take effect April 22. He took a $200 class to be certified. The class shows the gear contractors must wear — respirator masks, gloves and plastic suits — to do the work. They also must have special equipment that can be expensive. Debris must be placed in bags that are then placed in other bags. Warden likened the process to "hazmat cleanup." "I wanted to be educated and say 'I can do the work for you,' " said Warden, who hasn't had to use his certification yet. "The class was well worth the money. But I don't think many contractors know this is in place." Alexander wanted the EPA to delay the rule longer for contractors nationwide. He wants contractors to be in compliance if they sign up for a certification class by Sept. 30. Tennessee has only three EPA-accredited training programs. The senator also wants homeowners to be able to opt out so long as no children or pregnant women live in the home. "The idea of getting rid of lead paint is a good idea, but you have to have a practical plan, and it's not practical," he said. "Nashville alone had over $2 billion in damage and more than 11,000 homes that need repair." Contractors face fines In the West Nashville neighborhood known as The Nations, walls of homes, many built in the 1950s and '60s, have already been torn out. The debris that cluttered the sidewalks is gone. Remodeling and general contractor signs dot lawns of the community. If lead paint had been in the homes, chances are it was hauled away in the early days after the flooding. Much of the demolition was done by homeowners and volunteers, not by EPA-certified professionals. Mark Carlisle, a contractor who was working Tuesday on his flooded house on Delray Drive, didn't know about the new EPA rule. Neither did several other contractors, his friends, who were busy working on the electricity and plumbing inside the home. "It would be nice if they notified people about it" by mail, Carlisle said. Carlisle, who owns Mark Improvements, plans to do a lot of renovations and repairs for people he knows with flood damage. He can do it for them at cost because he knows times are tough and not a lot of people had flood insurance. But once the EPA's reprieve runs out, he risks a fine of $37,500 a day for each older home he repairs because he is not certified. Exemptions allowed The EPA's lead paint rule already allowed exemptions for emergencies such as the recent flooding. "The goal of these exemptions is to allow the public to perform immediate activities to protect their personal property and public health," the EPA said in a statement Tuesday. "For example, renovations in housing that has been significantly impacted by the flood need not be performed by certified or trained individuals, to the extent necessary, to quickly remove wet debris from a structure that has been damaged in this flooding." The EPA passed the new rule to guard against health hazards. Lead paint has been associated with serious health effects, especially in children, that can include seizures, behavioral issues, high blood pressure and even death. But Dr. John Benitez, a medical toxicologist and director of the Tennessee Poison Center, said most lead poisoning happens after chronic exposure to lead paint. "Just because you touch lead paint does not mean you are going to get lead poisoning," Benitez said. "You have to have a certain amount in your system before it will cause problems." The poisons are not absorbed through the skin. Typically, the lead has to be breathed in or swallowed. In theory, a child who touches lead paint and always sucks a thumb could ingest it. "It could take months or years to get sick," Benitez said.

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