A Different Vote–One That Could Have an Impact on Lead Exposure

There’s a vote coming this month you should know about and it doesn’t involve Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. This month, the International Code Council (ICC) will consider a simple proposal to reduce lead exposures. This admittedly less monumental vote could nonetheless have a significant impact on public health and deserves our attention.

The proposal before the ICC would change the model building and residential codes to require that contractors present proof of lead-safe certification when they apply to do work on pre-1978 homes. Lead paint was banned in 1978, meaning homes built before that time are significantly more likely to contain lead paint. The certification itself is nothing new, it is already required at a federal level. Yet, most localities do not require any proof of certification when issuing permits to renovate these homes.  Update: ICC's code officials rejected the proposal. As of Jan. 11, 2017, vote tally is not yet available.

Two places that do require such proof of certification are Rochester NY and the state of Minnesota. Today Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-Rochester NY) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced a letter, signed by them and 23 of their colleagues, that encourages the ICC to adopt the proposed policy.

Lead is a powerful neurotoxin, particularly dangerous to young children even at low-levels of exposure.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule) requires that contractors doing disturbing paint in more than de minimus amounts on pre-1978 homes be certified by EPA (or one of 14 states with delegated authority) and be trained to and actually use lead-safe work practices. The training helps ensure that renovators check that lead dust, debris and residue generation was minimized when paint is disturbed and does not remain after a job is done—residue that could put children in the home at risk.

Requiring contractors to provide the code official with a copy of the firm’s certificate issued by EPA or the state.   This gentle but firm nudge will better ensure compliance with this policy. In fact, after Minnesota adopted such a requirement, EPA saw a 30% jump in contractors getting certified.

Not every problem demands grand policy proposals or huge government programs. In this case the ICC could make a big impact on our kids with a minimal change. They should heed the call of Rep Slaughter, Sen. Franken and others to adopt the amendment to protect our kids.

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