health and safety

Lead Paint: Doing What’s Right

By Jessica Orquina

The first home I owned was built in the late 1800s. When I had it renovated, the contactors talked to me about what they had to do to protect me and their workers from the hazards of lead paint. I was glad to know that the people working on my home were going to be following proper procedures and building codes. Now, I live in a newer building, but I’m also a new mom. I’m concerned about protecting my son from harmful lead paint chips and dust where he plays and learns.

Reputable builders understand the public benefits from their meeting building code and environmental requirements.  They also know it benefits their business, especially when marketing knowledge, skills and reputation to potential customers.

Since I began working at EPA I’ve learned more about the Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) rule and how it is implemented. This rule is designed to protect children and other vulnerable Americans from the effects of lead paint.

There have always been suspicions about the health hazards caused by lead. It’s now known that lead is a persistent, toxic chemical that builds up in people’s bodies.  Among other problems, it interferes with the development of the nervous system.  That means it’s particularly dangerous to very young children, where it can cause learning and behavioral disorders. As a result, lead was banned from paint in the US in the mid-70s.

For these reasons, the RRP rule requires workers involved with the home renovation business to be trained and certified in work practice standards.  These standards help reduce the health risks from exposure to lead based paint. The rule applies not only to construction workers, but to painters, electricians, plumbers, and anyone else whose work may disturb painted surfaces. Note to do-it-yourselfers: the risks from lead paint dust are just as great in your own work. The rule doesn’t cover you, but you still should follow lead-safe work practices.

My colleagues at EPA work hard to increase compliance with the RRP rule. For example, we provide plain language compliance resources for construction workers and ask people to submit tips and complaints to us. We also work to bring companies, like Lowe’s Home Centers, into compliance after our inspections found their contractors were not using lead-safe work practices.

As a consumer, remember to make sure you’re hiring certified renovators who use the correct work practices. Contractors that are certified under the RRP rule are encouraged to display EPA’s “Lead-Safe” logo on their workers’ uniforms, signs, and website.  Protect yourself by looking for this logo before hiring a home contractor. Whether you’re installing new windows or finishing your basement, using the correct renovating methods will pay dividends to you and your family, and to the next person that rents or buys your house.  If you hire uncertified renovators, it not only creates potential lead paint risks for your family, but reduces the incentive for other renovators to pay the extra cost to comply with the rule. For more information, visit the Renovation, Repair and Painting Program website.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Wildfires Impact Water Resources in Colorado

By Nancy Stoner

It has been a hot and dry summer across most of the U.S. and one of the results has been an unusual number of forest fires. While controlled burns for fire suppression are a good thing, forest fires can be devastating to communities, causing loss of life, property damage, destruction of habitat, and severe water quality impacts.

I had the opportunity to visit a fire-ravaged area near Colorado Springs last week along with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, the Colorado Springs Utility, and my EPA colleagues from our regional office in Denver. We were observing the 18,000 acres affected by the Waldo Fire earlier this summer and the work of the burn area emergency response team led by the Forest Service to stabilize the most highly burned areas on steep slopes so that mud slides would not cause further loss of life, blockage of roadways, and loss of waterways.

The drinking water utility had already completely lost use of one of its reservoirs due to the extreme sedimentation caused by mud pouring off the charred landscape after even modest storms. While long-term restoration of the forest and all of its water protection benefits will take many years, the immediate business was mulching and strawing areas completely devoid of green vegetation. The forest service team of experts was doing this by dropping mulch and straw from the sky with helicopters.

EPA is contributing to this effort and will be contributing to additional watershed restoration efforts through its Clean Water Act 319 nonpoint source funding through the State of Colorado. Protection of surface water sources like this, which provides tap water for about 500,000 residents of Colorado, is one of the main uses of the 319 funding.

This is a great cooperative effort of the federal, state, and local governments working together to protect public health and safety. Hats off to the whole team for their fast and efficient work to address this emergency. EPA is proud to be a part of this effort.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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