EPA Lead Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule

Woman holding paintbrush with blue paint
Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

No one loves over-reaching ineffective regulation more than the EPA, and on April 22, 2008 , the EPA created a rule which officially went into effect April 22, 2010, dealing with lead paint removal in pre-1978 buildings. It is known as the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program (RRP Rule). This rule will affect you if you are a renovation contractor or homeowner in a pre-1978 building with a child living there under 6 years of age.

The EPA created the rule under the authority of section 402(c)(3) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

We all know ingested lead paint or lead paint dust is a health hazard to young children, which is why it has not been used in homes for over 30 years. Notwithstanding the fact that minimum threshold elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs) as a percent of children under 6 years of age as reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) decreased by almost 90% without additional EPA interference, the EPA was still compelled to write this new rule.

The CDC has not publicly posted EBLL results past 2007, but if you perform an exponential regression analysis on the CDC data from the 10 years 1997 to 2007, the elevated blood lead levels of children under 6 years of age projects out to be about 0.5% of children aged 5 and below in 2010, or roughly 130,000 children out of a total child population under 6 years of about 25,000,000.

So let’s be clear. Now that the heavy lifting of 30 years reducing minimum threshold elevated blood lead levels in children under 6 has resulted in a risk level of about 0.5% in 2010 (when it was as high as almost 8% in 1997), the EPA rolls out a major lead paint rule so that it has the most cost to consumers and contractors alike, with the least amount of benefit.

That is the EPA.

Renovation Projects and Contractors Affected by the EPA RRP Rule

Some 30+ years after the phase-out of lead-based paint we are now at a point where health risks to young children from this old paint technology are at about 0.5%, the EPA lumbers into action. This RRP rule from the EPA is intended to address lead-based paint hazards created by activities from renovation, repair, and painting that disturb lead-based paint in target housing and child-occupied facilities.

What is “Target Housing?” The EPA defines "target housing'' in TSCA section 401 as any housing constructed on or before December 31, 1977, except:

  • housing for the elderly or persons with disabilities unless any child under age 6 resides or is expected to reside in such housing, 
  • any 0-bedroom dwelling.

What is and is not a "Child-Occupied" facility? Under this rule, a child-occupied facility is a building, or a portion of a building constructed prior to 1978, visited regularly by the same child who is under 6 years of age on at least two different days within any week (Sunday through Saturday period), provided that each day's visit lasts at least 3 hours, and the combined weekly visits last at least 6 hours, and the combined annual visits last at least 60 hours.

What contractors are affected? The EPA’s RRP rule affects:

  • Renovation contractors
  • Maintenance workers in multi-family housing
  • Painters and other specialty trades.

Costs of Implementing the EPA RRP Rule

The rule is changing the risks these contractors assume and increasing the costs of simple home repair projects. Actual cost analysis by Remodeling Magazine shows compliance with the EPA rule will increase costs to contractors, and ultimately to you, at levels many times higher than the EPA hype. As opposed to a low additional cost to comply of between $8 to $167 per project as promoted by the EPA, real-world costs to comply with this Rule can easily increase home renovation projects between $1,300-$2,200 more for a bathroom remodel ordinarily valued at $10,000. Exterior projects can be more due to additional costs for vertical containment plastic sheeting and structure.

This also creates confusion to the consumer since contractors that do not want to comply can under-bid those contractors that do comply since they do not have the additional costs.

Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule

The current EPA Rule requires that contractors performing renovation, repair, and painting projects renovating either:

  • More than six square feet of painted surfaces in a room for interior projects, OR
  • More than twenty square feet of painted surfaces for exterior projects, window replacement, or demolition

in housing built before 1978 follow very specific procedures generally summarized as follows:

  1. Contain the work area. The area must be contained so that dust and debris do not escape from that area, which can be near impossible in an exterior project. Warning signs must be put up and plastic sheeting or other impermeable material and tape must be used as appropriate to
    • Cover the floors and any furniture that cannot be moved.
    • Seal off doors and heating and cooling system vents.
  2. Avoid new prohibited renovation methods including:
    • Open flame burning or torching.
    • Sanding, grinding, planing, needle gunning, or blasting with power tools and equipment not equipped with a shroud and HEPA vacuum attachment.
    • Using a heat gun at temperatures greater than 1100 F.
    • Contractors may use various methods to minimize dust generation, including using water to mist areas before sanding or scraping, scoring paint before separating components, and prying and pulling apart components instead of breaking them.
  3. Clean up procedures: The work area should be cleaned up daily to keep it as clean as possible. When all the work is done, the area must be cleaned up using special cleaning methods before taking down any plastic that isolates the work area from the rest of the home. The special cleaning methods include using a HEPA vacuum to clean up dust and debris on all surfaces, followed by wet wiping and wet mopping with plenty of rinse water. When the final cleaning is done, look around. There should be no dust, paint chips, or debris in the work area. If you see any dust, paint chips, or debris, the area must be re-cleaned.
  1. Alert the homeowner to renovation risks: The EPA requires homeowners be provided a brochure titled The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right to alert them to the "lead poison risks" they are exposed to in a renovation project and how to report the contractor to authorities if the resident does not think the work is following the procedures outlined in the brochure. The brochure states, “You may even want to move out of your home temporarily while all or part of the work is being done.”

Is drilling into your wall a lead hazard?

The EPA evaluated various home repair tasks for lead dust risk, including:

  • Paint removal by abrasive sanding.
  • Removal of large structures, including demolition of interior plaster walls.
  • Window replacement.
  • Carpet removal.
  • HVAC repair or replacement, including ductwork.​
  • Repairs resulting in isolated small surface disruptions such as drilling and sawing into wood and plaster.

Per the EPA RRP Rule:
“..all renovation and remodeling activities, when conducted where lead-based paint is present, generated lead loadings on floors at a distance of 5 to 6 feet from the activity that exceeded EPA’s dust-lead hazard standard of 40 μg/ft2…it is apparent that the study also found that drilling into plaster created dust lead levels in the immediate vicinity of the activity that exceeded the dust-lead hazard standard. Thus, all the activities studied did in fact create lead-based paint hazards.”

With this new EPA rule, drilling into your plaster wall which has lead paint on it somewhere in its history now creates a dangerous lead dust hazard.

Requirements to Be Met With the EPA RRP Rule and the HUD LSHR Rules

  1. Renovation companies must be certified by the EPA and pay a $300 fee for a 5-year certification.
  2. Renovation contractors themselves must take an 8-hour Lead Safety course, EPA/HUD Model Renovator Training Course, and be certified in lead safety. It’s the same training a contractor has to take for another lead safety program under HUD authority.
  3. If you are a non-certified laborer, you have to be directly supervised by a certified renovation contractor (certified renovator) and obtain lead safety work practice training while on the work site.
  4. The renovation contractors must use lead-safe work practices which address setting up work, protection, prohibited work practices, and remediation clean up.
  5. Renovation contractors must then “educate” the occupants of the home about the hazards and risks of lead paint exposure during construction and give them an EPA brochure called The Lead-Safe Certified Guide to Renovate Right.
  6. Renovation contractors then have to document how they complied with the EPA’s regulations for the RRP rule and keep those records for 3 years just in case the EPA wants to audit the contractor.

In addition to the EPA’s RRP Rule, if contractors are working in target housing units receiving HUD funds then they are also subject to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Lead Safe Housing Rule (known as LSHR) described in HUD regulations at 24 CFR Part 35.

HUD provides this table describing the differences between Differences between HUD LSHR and EPA RRP regulations.

The $37,500 per Violation Per Day Penalty

So, what is the price for non-compliance? The EPA can levy a fine of $37,500 per violation for non-compliance with their rules. The first contractor to be made an example of has already been selected by the EPA: Rockland, Maine contractor Colin Wentworth faces a minimum of $150,000 in fines from the EPA for alleged violations captured by an "anonymous" YouTube video which may have been provided by a competitor.