John Adams: Facts you must know about lead-based paint

On April 22 of this year, the Environmental Protection Agency implemented a new set of rules regarding lead-safe work practices in homes and child care facilities built before 1978. Contractors and renovators scrambled to sign up for the one-day class that led to "EPA Certified Renovator" status.

And when the EPA recently announced that it was voluntarily (under pressure from Congress) delaying the application of penalties against contractors and others who failed to get the mandatory training, many in Atlanta breathed a sigh of relief. It is now clear that the collective sigh was premature.

It turns out that the postponement only applies to the fines that might have been levied for failure to obtain certification. There is a whole raft of rules and regulations that are still in full force and effect, and the federal agency is just getting warmed up with its enforcement.

Recently in metro Atlanta, a well-respected professional management firm was "visited" without an appointment by officers of the EPA, who discovered some 10 alleged minor violations of the lead-paint disclosure requirement (a related rule). The firm had taken measures to comply with the requirements and believed itself to be in full compliance.

Nonetheless, a fine of more than $300,000 was threatened against the firm, which promptly contacted its lawyer. The firm ended up negotiating a "consent" order and a much lower penalty, but the unpleasant taste remains.

So here are three facts you must know about lead-based paint:

  1. Even a small amount of dust from renovations, repairs or painting can contaminate an entire home. If inhaled or swallowed, this dust can cause irreversible damage to children and adults.
  2. Anyone who, for compensation, proposes to perform any renovation or repair in any pre-1978 house or child-occupied facility must now be an EPA Certified Renovator. Even an owner-occupant who plans to hire someone to help him do even small repair jobs must comply with the rule. The threshold for triggering these requirements is "disturbing more than six square feet" of any painted surface. If the residence receives federal assistance, stricter rules apply.
  3. Failure to obtain certification or to employ mandated "lead-safe" practices in target housing can lead to civil penalties of up to $32,500 per violation and up to five years in prison. Willful violations are subject to a doubling of the fines and penalties.

Amazingly, I am hearing less and less about this topic as the summer gets hotter. I can't decide whether nobody knows about this new rule or that they all know but just don't care.

John Adams is an author, broadcaster and investor. He answers real estate questions at noon on Saturdays on radio station WGKA (920 AM). For more real estate information or to make a comment, visit