EPA delays lead paint rule for commercial buildings

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed its plans to expand the Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule to commercial buildings until 2015, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported. The existing rule that governs any single-family housing continues to apply, including multi-family residential units that are part of mixed-use construction, or any commercial space where a child under the age of six resides or “regularly” visits, such as day care centers.

The EPA had entered into a voluntary -- and controversial -- legal settlement with environmental groups that will significantly expand the residential lead paint rule to commercial buildings. The final element of the legal settlement required EPA to accelerate the development of the commercial buildings rule, and the agency agreed to introduce one by September 2012.

However, as NAHB and other trade groups repeatedly pointed out to EPA and members of Congress charged with EPA oversight, the agency failed to perform prerequisite studies on the potential lead dust exposures to adults -- not children -- during renovation activities in pre-1978 commercial buildings.

Under federal law, the EPA is required to perform these studies prior to proposing a commercial building rule. To date, the EPA has not conducted the required study.

Because lead-based paint can still be used in commercial and industrial buildings, the commercial rule would apply to every commercial building in the country regardless of when built.

In addition, EPA has yet to approve a test kit for the presence of lead-based paint that meets the accuracy standard it said it would require when the residential rule was implemented in 2010.

The residential rule has created a competitive disadvantage for professional remodelers bidding against fly-by-night contractors, and lack of consumer awareness only fuels this disparity. Many professional remodelers are being outbid because their prices include compliance with the rule while their competitors do not.

NAHB continues to voice its concerns that this same inequity may transfer to the commercial market. The EPA’s three-year delay in developing the lead paint rule for commercial buildings is in part a recognition by the agency that it has not conducted the required analysis to move forward in the near term, the NAHB states.