EPA to begin enforcement of lead paint rule

Beginning Oct. 1, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin enforcement of the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule, which could affect security and fire alarm system installers who do work in residential structures.

The rule, which is designed to protect children from the dangers of exposure to dust and chips from lead-based paint, requires contractors working in homes, as well as child care facilities and schools built prior to 1978, to become certified and follow certain work practices to prevent lead contamination.

The rule does not apply to minor repairs or maintenance activities where less than six-square-feet of an interior room or 20-square-feet of an exterior space would be disturbed. Those disturbing areas that exceed these measurements and don't receive the proper certifications face hefty fines from the EPA.

"The EPA's main concern is the health of children and pregnant women and that's what this rule is supposed to protect," said Jason Smith, spokesman for the Electronic Security Association. "Anytime there is a disturbance of more than six-square-feet, (installers) are going to have to have somebody certified and if they don't, they can be fined, but more importantly if they don't' (get certified), they can be liable if someone gets sick in these homes."

Smith said one of the ESA's main concerns regarding the new regulation had to do with training, being that the association felt there wasn't enough time for contractors to become certified in these procedures before the rule went into effect. Thus, the ESA lobbied with others to get enforcement of the rule, which was originally scheduled to take effect in April, delayed until October.

Like it or not, Smith said the delay was the only concession ESA and other groups opposed to measure were able to get out of the government.

"The rule's already approved, it's not getting repealed," he said. "Members need to be aware of it and they need to be in compliance."

Regardless, Smith says that installers should be proactive when it comes to the issue due to the liability issues.

"We're about public safety, we want to make certain that the work we do is safe for children and families," Smith added.

Smith advises those contractors that have not been able to receive certification to determine if the work that needs to be done on a job can be completed without violating the rule. If not, then he says they should decline the job until they can satisfy the EPA's standards.

"The job is not worth endangering the life of a child or putting their business in jeopardy," he said.

John Chwat, director of government relations for ESA, said that the association sought an exemption to the rule for the security industry, but the government rejected the request.

"Their rational... was that the security industry does puncture of effect the wall when they install wires and when they install their products. Since they touch the paint in order to put their products in, they are disturbing the paint and therefore they are swept up in this regulation," Chwat explained. "Whatever arguments we were making to them on how the industry really does do its job just fell on deaf ears as far as this administration was concerned."

The EPA was also initially reluctant to grant an extension on enforcement of the new rule, because Chwat said they believed that the industry already had enough time to be in compliance.

"After a while, the industry did convince the EPA, through a lot of pressure and meetings, that the industry was not prepared to certify and train everyone that worked in these kinds of buildings," Chwat said.

Even if a homeowner is not concerned about the potential dangers from lead paint, the rule does not allow for them to sign a waiver that frees the contractor from adhering to standards set forth in the rule.

"(The EPA) didn't do their job properly to know the different types of industries that work on pre-1980 buildings and they should have granted our exemption, because (the security industry) is not in the construction trade per say," he said. "The most important thing they didn't do their job on was consider the impact of the certification and training on trying to train 300,000 or 400,000 people that potentially work on these buildings. They just didn't understand the immense impact this would have on the industry."

Despite the furor that has been generated over the new lead paint regulation, George Gunning, CEO of USA Alarm Systems Inc. and former president of the ESA, says he doesn't believe that security dealers have much to worry about because they won't generally be disturbing areas greater than six-square-feet.

"I'm not going to be cutting out walls, and if we do cut it out, it's not going to be me on a job, it's going to be somebody else; it's going to be the renovators," he said. "I didn't see a problem with (the lead paint rule) to be honest with you. I'm not sure that our industry and installing alarm systems is going to be affected. Even if one of our people fell through a ceiling, we're going to have somebody else come in and put a new ceiling up, not us."

Even for those contractors that install more than keypads and panels, Gunning said he still doesn't see the rule as being a hindrance to them.

"I really don't see a lot of problems for an integrator and if I was an integrator, I would probably hire somebody that knows what they are doing cutting out walls and then having to repair them," he said.

Though the lead paint rule may not affect all security installers, Chwat believes that there could be more regulations on the way that could have a detrimental impact on the industry.

"At least for the next two years, the EPA will be an aggressive agency among many agencies that will take anti-business policy positions and try to implement them through regulations, as opposed to getting legislative authority," he said. "This is going to be a great battle in the next two years. We are very active with the business community in Washington, so I predict that there will be many, many more regulations coming down that will affect the security industry."