By Nate Seward
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule (RRP rule) has been in effect since April 2010, yet many general contractors, remodelers, maintenance personnel, and even restoration/ mitigation contractors are still not in compliance with the federal law.
The RRP rule
The RRP rule applies to anyone disturbing the paint of homes, apartments, and child-occupied commercial facilities built before 1978.
If the job requires disturbing more than six square feet of indoor paint or 20 square feet of outdoor paint or if it involves replacing windows, the contractor must be RRP certified (sometimes referred to as a “certified renovator”). On a typical water-damage project, in an older property in which drywall, cabinets, baseboards, or any other painted building materials must be removed to complete the drying process and/or perform mold remediation, the contractor needs to be RRP certified.
The RRP rule stipulates the contractor may test the surface to determine whether it contains lead, or he or she may assume there is lead-based paint present and follow the requirements of the rule.
One of the most common written citations from the EPA is due to the contractor failing to provide the EPA’s “Lead-Safe Guide to Renovate Right” (Renovate Right) publication to the occupant. Although this is considered an administrative infraction, it still carries a potentially heavy fine. Another requirement under the RRP rule is that contractors must utilize lead-safe work practices. Lead-safe practices include using HEPA vacuums, minimizing lead dust generation, isolating work areas with plastic, and displaying warning signs. There are also cleanup procedures and verification requirements.
The RRP law was established and is enforced by the U.S. EPA; however, the presence of lead requires the contractor to follow OSHA regulations to protect employees. These may include additional training, giving workers a baseline lead test, having employees cleared by a physician to wear a respirator, and providing respirator training.
Document, document, document
As is typical of government-mandated rules, a substantial amount of paperwork is included with RRP compliance. As previously noted, the most common fine issued by EPA to contractors is for not handing out the Renovate Right publication before starting the job. Renovate Right is a free publication from EPA. The contractor must secure written confirmation that it was handed out to the homeowner. In addition, the contractor must also post lead warning signs, document lead testing results, maintain training records, and perform a cleaning verification test.
Two separate certifications are required under the RRP rule: Individual certification and firm certification. An employee with individual certification (the certified renovator) oversees a project and must work for a certified firm.
To become a certified renovator, one must complete a one-day training class and pass an exam to obtain certification. This certification is valid for five years; after that, a certified restorer must take a refresher class to extend the certification.
Firm certification consists of an online form submitted directly to EPA and generally costs around $300 for five years. This firm certification is available to companies of all sizes and types including sole proprietors.
Penalties for failing to follow the RRP rule
Unlike other EPA regulations, which carry small fines and have few enforcement personnel, violating the RRP can be quite expensive. EPA’s tiered financial configuration for violating the RRP rule is complicated, but the maximum fine is $37,500 per violation and possible imprisonment for the company owner. It’s also important to understand that penalties can be assessed up to three years after the job is finished.
Some states have adopted their own versions of the federal RRP law, which means they can make the RRP more stringent than the federal requirements. These states include Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin.
Recent estimates found more than 500,000 contractors in the U.S. have worked on pre-1978 properties that require RRP certification, but less than 20 percent of those contractors are certified. Many contractors are not aware of the law, and others simply ignore it. As far as the EPA is concerned, ignorance is not an excuse.
EPA is stepping up its enforcement actions and targeting companies that are not in compliance, from large renovation contractors to the neighborhood handyman. In some EPA regions, enforcement teams are even focusing on certain types of professionals—including restoration and remediation contractors.
Restoration professionals focus on the important elements of properly restoring a property that has sustained major damage from water, fire, or smoke. Often the potential RRP requirements are forgotten. In the grand scheme of a restoration project, the RRP requirements are generally minimal, but the consequences of not complying can be significant.
According to EPA enforcement officials, there is a trend of restoration and emergency service contractors using the “emergency exemption” under the RRP rule to circumvent compliance with the regulation. However, according to EPA, if you have time to create an estimate for the restoration services, you are subject to all the RRP requirements.
Keeping good records
Fines are as likely to be levied for training or recordkeeping violations as they are for work-practice violations. In December 2014, the EPA announced 61 enforcement actions that occurred between February and October. While several of the companies were cited for not following lead-safe practices, many were also fined for lack of training and administration violations, such as not assigning a certified renovator to the job, poor recordkeeping, and not providing homeowners the Renovate Right publication.
In my experience working with the EPA as an RRP instructor, EPA tends to be less aggressive in its enforcement investigations on contractors who maintain good records and make an effort to comply with the RRP regulation.
Embracing the regulation can be one way to separate your company from competitors. On projects involving homeowners who have never heard of the RRP, education about the rule and the reasons why you need to comply may be necessary. At the end of the day, the goal of the RRP is to ensure the safety of the occupants and workers.
Nate Seward is principal engineer/hygienist and owner of Criterion Environmental Inc. and the Academy of Textiles & Flooring. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering and maintains certifications and licenses in environmental consulting and industrial hygiene. Seward is an EPA-accredited instructor of the RRP and an IICRC-approved instructor of the Water Restoration Technician and Applied Microbial Remediation certifications.