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November 07, 2013
Small firm pays big for lead-paint actions

Noncompliance with EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule can lead to catastrophic consequences for the small and very small businesses that specialize in this type of work.  This was made vividly clear recently when a Missouri firm agreed to pay the EPA $30,000 for alleged multiple violations of the RRP Rule. 

Publicly available information on the Internet indicates that the firm has 0 to 10 employees and annual revenues estimated at $110,000.  Typically, the EPA works with small businesses to collect penalties in installments.  However, even if spread out over several years, a penalty that is 27 percent of a small business’s annual revenue can severely affect operations, equipment purchases, and payment to employees.

Not certified

It should be emphasized that the company allegedly violated every critical provision of the RRP Rule.  First, according to the EPA, the company was not a certified RRP contractor.  The RRP Rule requires that firms working in pre-1978 homes and child-occupied facilities must be certified and use lead-safe work practices during renovations.  To become a certified renovator, an individual must take an EPA-approved 8-hour training course from an EPA-accredited training provider.

Second, the EPA states that the firm did not, as required, provide the homeowner with Renovate Right, the EPA pamphlet intended to educate owners and occupants about the risks of renovating where lead paint is present, precautions that should be taken, and a contractor’s legal obligations. 

Third, the EPA states that the firm did not maintain records for the project that was the immediate source of the alleged violations, as well as for two previous projects.  Recordkeeping and reporting requirements under the RRP Rule are extensive and apply to on-the-job work and postrenovation reporting. 

Fourth, an employee of the firm used a high-speed belt sander without a HEPA exhaust attachment, according to the EPA.  The RRP Rule prohibits power sanding, power grinding, power planing, needle guns, abrasive blasting, and sandblasting without a HEPA vacuum attachment.  Open-flame burning or torching and use of a heat gun above 1100ºF are also prohibited.

Homeowner complaint

What raised the stakes in this case is that the homeowner complained to the EPA about the firm’s alleged noncompliance.  In fact, the RRP Rule contains a provision that allows homeowners to opt out of the work practice requirements provided certain conditions are met (e.g., the owner resides in the house and neither a child under 6 years of age nor a pregnant woman resides in the house).  The rule also exempts firms from certain requirements in emergency situations, an exemption that initially applied in this case. 

However, according to the EPA, the firm continued working on the house long after the emergency passed without complying with the RRP Rule. 

This case may be a worst-case-penalty scenario for a small business caught in noncompliance with the RRP Rule.  But it should serve as a notice to small companies about what consequences are possible if the rules are broken.  

Information on the RRP Rule

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