The Environmental Protection Agency is drafting a rule that would require contractors to be certified before working on projects that involve lead-based paint. It’s part of a larger push to eliminate childhood lead poisoning as a major health concern. The GLRC’s Christina Shockley reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency is drafting a rule that would
require contractors to be certified before working on projects that involve
lead-based paint. It’s part of a larger push to eliminate childhood lead
poisoning as a major health concern. The GLRC’s Christina Shockley
Under the rule, contractors would have to take training courses, and get
formal certifications, before being allowed to work on projects that could
disrupt lead-based paint. It would apply to work done in homes built
before 1978, where a child under the age of six resides.
Ben Calo is the president of a lead-abatement company in southeast
Michigan. He says the measure would be a hassle for contractors… but it’s a
good idea for homeowners.
“They know that there’s something wrong with lead, but they trust that
the contractor that comes in is going to take all the proper precautions.
I’m not saying that they’re not good contractors, it’s just that if you’re not
required to do this, you don’t do it.”
The EPA says the rule would add about 500-dollars to the cost of large
renovation projects involving lead-based paint.
The lead paint on the inside of this apartment window is decades old. Toddlers who swallow lead paint chips risk behavioral disorders, lowered intelligence, and neurological damage. The dust created by opening and closing the window is also toxic. (Photo by Shawn Allee)
Some environmental issues are so old, they almost seem dead. One of those issues is lead paint. It got a lot of press in the 1970’s, but even today there are nearly 300,000 kids with high lead levels. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to protect children when older homes get a facelift. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has this look:
Some environmental issues are so old, they almost seem dead. One of those issues is lead
paint. It got a lot of press in the 1970’s, but even today there are nearly 300,000 kids with
high lead levels. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to protect
children when older homes get a facelift. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn
Allee has this look:
The 1970’s were filled with horror stories of toddlers eating lead paint chips. It was
pretty serious stuff. Children became mentally retarded or even died from it.
You don’t read those stories much anymore.
(sound of kids playing)
But for Chicago lead inspector Earl Coleman, lead paint’s still a daily reality. Today he’s
at this house because a child here tested high for lead. It’s a high priority inspection –
there are eleven children living here… and that’s not all.
“This particular stop’s also a daycare, so we get extra benefits from the fact that it’s not
just a child in the house. All those that come here and get service will benefit from this
Coleman sets up his lead detector.
And starts in a children’s room. It’s decorated with Disney knickknacks and pink paint.
As he checks the walls, he explains lead chips aren’t the only danger.
“What happens is, with lead, once it begins to deteriorate, it creates dust, and from that
moment on dust then is spread very easily.”
This invisible dust gets on furniture, clothes and toys, and to a kid, any of these is
fair game for chewing. Coleman eyes the window nearby.
If it’s got lead paint, opening or closing it could spread toxic dust. Two grade-school
girls comb their dolls’ hair while sitting just below the window. Coleman leans over
them to get a reading.
“If a child’s been cooped up in the house all day long and they want to know what’s
going on outside, the best place to look is through the window, so you touch the window,
you sit in the window, and yes, we have lead here.”
A minute ago, this was just a play area, but with this simple check, the girls now are
playing under an official lead hazard. Ingesting dust could be as easy as forgetting to
wash their hands before lunch. The other windows test positive, too.
Luckily, the homeowner qualifies for a free program to replace the windows, but
programs like that don’t reach everybody. That’s why the EPA wants home contractors to
get training before they repair older homes.
Coleman supports the idea. He says, if just opening a window creates a threat, think of
what sanding one can do.
One time, he was called to a building that had just been totally rehabbed.
“It was ready for show. Anybody that would walk through the place would say this place
is beautiful, but he had so much dust still there, that there was fine, fine film in that
place, and the kid got sick because there was still lead dust, all over everything.”
He says the contractor had a great reputation, but just didn’t know any better. Coleman
says that’s pretty common, but some rehab industry reps say the rules aren’t needed.
Vince Butler’s with the National Association of Home Builders. The group also
represents home rehabbers. Butler worries contractors will have trouble paying for
mandatory training. He says those training costs will be passed on to consumers, and
that’ll mean higher prices.
“The concern is that you get frustrated and decide, heck, I’ll just do it myself and do the
best I can. Or, you hire somebody that comes in there and, god forbid, starts sanding
things and burning things to get rid of that paint, and makes the problem much worse
than had a professional had come in and employed what we know to be safe work
Butler says unprofessional repairs could leave even more lead dust around.
The EPA doubts that. It says homeowners will still hire professionals because repair
prices won’t rise much.
Meanwhile, advocates support the rules. Anita Weinberg heads a group called Lead-Safe
Illinois. She says children’s health shouldn’t be left to the rehab industry’s voluntary
training. When Weinberg tries making that point to politicians, she often gets frustrated.
Just like everyone else, politicians feel the problem’s ancient history.
“When we go and talk to legislators they often wind up saying, I thought the problem was
solved, and in fact, the problem is that lead doesn’t disappear.”
And Weinberg says even the EPA’s been slow to fight the problem. Congress asked for
these new rules for rehab contractors thirteen years ago.
The EPA will hear comments on the home repair rules over the next few months. In the
meantime, Weinberg and other advocates will push to keep the strongest provisions.
They’ll also ask the EPA to improve follow-up testing.
That way, homeowners can be sure no lead dust was left behind after a rehab.
Weinberg’s not sure whether to be heartened by the EPA’s proposal.
“It’s not depressing in that we really know what we should be doing about it and can
make those efforts. It is depressing that we’re not yet doing it sufficiently.”
That’s even after decades worth of research showing lead poisons children.
Mike LeBeau installs solar and wind energy systems.
He has put in more generators this year than in the last 10 years
combined, thanks to rebate programs offered by the state and local
governments. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
Representatives of nearly 200 countries recently met in
Argentina to work out the next steps in dealing with climate change.
Seven years ago, many nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions
and greenhouse gases. The U.S. didn’t agree to reduce its emissions.
Now, a report from the National Environmental Trust says that decision
is hurting American businesses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Representatives of nearly 200 countries recently met in Argentina to
work out the next steps in dealing with climate change. Seven years
ago, many nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions and
greenhouse gases. The U.S. didn’t agree to reduce its emissions.
Now a report from the National Environmental Trust says that
decision is hurting American businesses. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Mike LeBeau installs wind generators and photovoltaic solar
collectors. His business, Conservation Technologies, is in Duluth,
Minnesota. In the U.S., there are not a lot of contractors doing this
kind of work.
“This is a two and a half kilowatt photovoltaic system.”
Two panels about the size of a dining room table stand on the top
floor of a downtown garage. The only other equipment is an inverter
– a metal box the size of a shoebox – that transforms the direct
current from the solar panels to the alternating current we use in our
“The electricity is produced here by the sun, fed into the wiring in the
building here, and any excess is distributed out onto the utility grid.”
The solar panels were made in Japan. And the inverter is from
LeBeau has been installing systems like this for ten years. Demand
was slow until a year ago, when Minnesota started a rebate program.
LeBeau has put in more generators this year than in the last ten
With another rebate offered by the local utility, LeBeau says the cost
of installing a typical system can be cut nearly in half.
And he says the increased activity has persuaded some of the
naysayers to help rather than hinder renewable energy projects.
“Now the electrical inspectors don’t have any choice – it’s being
supported by the utilities, and by the state of Minnesota, so it’s really
changed the atmosphere and the climate that we work in.”
But LeBeau says the state rebate program is a drop in the bucket
compared to what’s being done in other countries.
Christopher Reed agrees. He’s an engineer who advises individuals
and businesses on renewable energy projects. He says U.S. policy
has been piecemeal and erratic. For instance, there’s a federal tax
credit for renewable energy production. But it’s only in place for a
year or two at a time.
“When the incentive is out there, everybody ramps up as fast as they
can, and we slam projects in to meet the deadline before the credit
expires, and then everybody sits until the credit gets reintroduced
again. This has happened three times now.”
Reed says that discourages long-term investment.
Reed’s business is one of several American firms studied for the
report from the National Environmental Trust. The report says Japan
and most countries in Europe are providing major and consistent
incentives to encourage production of renewable energy. The report
says this approach is saving money, creating jobs, and putting
businesses in a position to export their new technologies and
Reed says he’s frustrated to see European and Japanese companies
thrive, using American inventions such as photovoltaic, or PV,
technology, while American manufacturers fail.
“It’s almost embarrassing. The PV technology, that came out of Bell
Labs in the U.S. We should be the world leaders.”
But some observers say the worry is overblown. Darren McKinney is
a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers. He says
the U.S. has nothing to fear from German or Japanese businesses.
He says fossil fuels are doing a good job of stoking the American
“The fact of the matter is that wind and solar and biomass and
geothermal simply aren’t ready for prime time. If someone wants to
make an argument ‘well, they could be ready for prime time if they
received x-amount of tax cuts,’ I won’t necessarily argue against that
because I don’t know enough about the technologies. What I do
know is it would be cutting off our nose to spite our energy face if we
turn our backs on fossil fuels.”
Right now, oil and natural gas get the lion’s share of federal subsidies
in the U.S. Subsidies for renewable energy sources are very small in
comparison. As other countries shift to new technologies, American
companies could be left behind.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.