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LEGAL MATTERS: Remodeling? Pay Attention to Lead Paint Laws

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


If you plan on disturbing more than six square feet of room in any pre-1978 house, you'll need Lead Hazard Control help. Photo: Jo Naylor/flickr

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, in 2010 Providence had the highest number of children in the state diagnosed with a blood lead level greater than 10 ug/dL – the level of concern set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lead poisoning can come from a number of sources, but the most prevalent source is lead paint. Prior to 1978 manufacturers added lead to paint to make it more durable and to make it more opaque, but when lead paint breaks down, it can have enormous health impacts if ingested or inhaled – particularly by infants and children. While lower levels can cause stomach pains and anemia, extreme levels of exposure can result in seizures; mental retardation; coma; and even death. Long-term exposure -- even at relatively low levels – has been linked to decreased hearing; lower intelligence; hyperactivity; attention deficit disorder; and problems in school.

Both the federal government and Rhode Island have put in place a number of regulations and laws to combat this problem and, in Rhode Island, those programs seem to be working – lead poisoning levels have never been lower. New lead poisoning cases among screened children have declined from 6.1 percent in 2000 to 1 percent in 2010.

In Rhode Island, if you live in a rental home, landlords are required to find and remove lead hazards under a law enacted by the General Assembly in 2002. The law also requires the state to identify and publish listings of housing units considered high-risk and units where multiple lead poisonings have taken place.

What most people don’t know, however, is that ALL homeowners – with a very few exceptions -- are subject to lead hazard rules with respect to renovations.

If you are a homeowner of a pre-1978 home and you are planning on disturbing six square feet or more of paint (per room) or 20 square feet or more of paint on the outside of your home you fall under the Rhode Island Renovation Repair and Painting Rule and you MUST hire a licensed Lead Hazard Control Firm. According to the Department of Health, projects that fall under this requirement include, but are not limited to “window replacement; remodeling; repair/maintenance; electrical work; plumbing; painting; carpentry; and demolition.”

Outside renovations

If the renovations are on the outside, the State Department of Environmental Management Air Pollution Control Regulation No. 24 mandates written notice to anyone living within the structure and any neighbors or business owners or schools within 50 feet of your home five days prior to the start of work. The notice must include the address of the property; the start and completion dates for the lead paint removal project; the lead paint removal procedure to be used; and the name, address and telephone number of the individual or company responsible for the lead paint removal; and a specific warning statement.

Indoor renovations

If the renovations are on the inside, you will need a clearance inspection following the repair.

Under the law, contractors must prevent dust and debris from escaping and avoid practices that cause large amounts of lead-contaminated dust. Contractors cannot dry sweep, use heat guns at temperatures over 1100 degrees; use open flame or use flammable or methylene chloride paint strippers. After the job is done, contractors must clean dust and debris using a HEPA vacuum and wet mops and have a clearance inspection by a Certified environmental lead inspector or technician.

Whether you are selling or just renting

Owners of pre-1978 properties must tell potential buyers and renters about known and POTENTIAL lead exposure hazards. You must also give potential buyers copies of all your lead certification and inspection reports; include a lead warning and disclosure statement in the lease or sales contract and give buyers a pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” with written proof that you provided the pamphlet. Buyers are allowed 10 days to conduct lead inspections and/or risk assessments prior to the sales contract taking effect.

Housing built after 1978 and any housing declared lead-free by a Rhode Island Certified environmental lead inspector is generally exempt from the rule. Housing for elderly or persons with disabilities; studio apartments; and dormitories are also exempt unless a child younger than six years old resides there, or is expected to reside there, for more than two weeks per year.

For more information on lead laws and regulations, visit http://www.health.ri.gov/healthrisks/poisoning/lead/index.php; http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/benviron/assist/extlead/index.htm and http://www.hrc.ri.gov/misc/>lead_mitigation.php

Susan G. Pegden is a litigation associate with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins in Providence.  She is admitted to practice in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Rhode Island Association of Justice (RIAJ) and a member of the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association.

Sean P. Feeney is a partner with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins. He is admitted to practice in Rhode Island, Illinois and Wisconsin. Mr. Feeney is a former special counsel to the City of Providence, military prosecutor with the United States Marine Corps and Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California.

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