About James Romanchek

“Allons-y”
James enjoys doing stuff and things, and holds modest opinions about most things, but not about others. He has been with REPSG since July of 2009. In addition to his work with the construction management and indoor air quality departments, he has worked on Phase I Environmental Assessments, Phase II Field Work and Management Activities, Limited Site Investigations, and company Health and Safety. Oh, and sometimes he’ll bring in bagels but only if we ask nicely.

EPA RRP (Renovation, Repair, and Painting) News

EPA LogoFor those of you who are not already aware, the EPA’s 2008 lead Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule is a set of required standards for all building and home contractors who work in buildings that have lead-based paint. The rule requires the use of lead-safe work practices to minimize the possible conditions that can generate a lead hazard during normal RRP activities. Part of the requirement is for contractors and workers to take appropriate classes in lead-safe work practices.

Originally, the law was anticipated to include a requirement for final clearance dust wipe sampling to ensure there is not a lead dust hazard in the area of renovations. However, the EPA backed off of the requirement in 2011, instead favoring a “qualitative” method of having the contractor compare a damp cloth wipe of the renovation area to an “EPA Standard” to determine if they needed to do additional cleaning (the so called “dirty-diaper test”). You can read the EPA’s reasoning for this change in a document titled “Improving Our Regulations: Final Plan for Periodic Retrospective Reviews of Existing Regulations.” The entire EPA document is worth reading, as it addressed other regulatory topics, including drinking water standards, vehicle emissions, TSCA, NPDES, and others. However, the RRP Paragraph is below:

“After carefully weighing the issues and considering the comments from over 300 stakeholders, EPA has determined that there are currently no data or information that call into question the reliability, safety, and efficacy of the lead safe work practices established in the 2008 RRP rule.

Therefore, EPA did not finalize additional “clearance” requirements that contractors obtain lead-dust testing and laboratory analysis of the results for renovation jobs.  EPA believes that if certified and trained renovation contractors follow EPA’s 2008 RRP rule by using lead-safe work practices and following the cleaning protocol after the job is finished, lead-dust hazards will be effectively reduced.”

The RRP Rule has been in effect since April of 2010. However, it was not until April of this year that the EPA announced the first set of enforcement actions against contractors who violated the RRP rule. For those of you counting, that took the agency two years.

The three announced enforcement actions all included fines of at most $10,000, but it has been long suspected that these actions were in the pipeline. The violations cited by the EPA included both the failure of companies to obtain the RRP certification and then subsequent work practices that could have caused a lead hazard. No incidents of elevated lead blood levels were indicated.

The press release regarding the violations is available here.

Have a comment of question regarding the EPA lead RRP? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at jromanchek@repsg.com.

Philadelphia Lead Paint Disclosure Ordinance and Musing of Politics in Philadelphia

Philadelphia City Planning Commission SealPhiladelphia City Council, at the end of 2011, passed an ordinance that will dramatically effect some of our major clients, and hopefully will have an impact some of the work we do. Philadelphia City Ordinance 100011-A, colloquially called the “lead based paint disclosure ordinance,” amends the city code to require that a rental property be certified as either “lead free” or “lead safe” before it may be rented.

The law takes the approach of being a disclosure ordinance; landlords are required to disclose this certificate that says that the rental unit is lead free or lead safe to their prospective tenants, and such a certification must have been acquired no more than two years prior to the start of the lease. However, what the law is actually accomplishing is something different. Essentially, as I read the text of the bill, it is requiring that the owner/landlord must have the unit inspected by a certified lead paint risk assessor and declared “lead safe” or “lead free” by the assessor. Lead free means that the house has no lead-based paint at all and is a permanent designation. Lead Safe simply means that the unit is free of lead based paint hazards and is only valid for 2 years. It should be noted that part of the requirement for “lead safe” certification includes the collection of lead wipe samples to assess any potential lead dust hazard. Lead wipe samples are a quantitative way of determining lead paint hazard, rather than the mostly qualitative methods of a risk assessment.

Of course, as we know, most properties in the city with lead-based paint are not free of any lead-based paint hazards. Therefore before a “lead safe” certification can be granted the owners will have to institute lead remediation or intermediate control measures, as determined by the risk assessor, after which the property will need to be reassessed before it can be certified lead safe.

And this brings us to the interesting part of the story.

Coffee MugWhile sitting in a café off of Logan Circle recently (doing work, of course), I was having a conversation about this ordinance with a friend, in particular regarding how it is suppose to take affect this December and yet we have not seen any indication that there has been widespread movement to come into compliance. I was allegorically discussing the nature of Philadelphia politics and regulations, and was overheard by a man sitting at the table next to me.

He informed me that he was one of the (former) council staffers who helped write the ordinance, and being a policy geek myself, we began discussing the nature of the political process. According to him, the primary purpose for this ordinance was to basically coerce L&I to enforce existing lead paint safety standards in the rental properties in the city. While L&I will do a nominal “inspection” of some rental properties as a requirement to their license, they mainly react to tenant complaints. As such, the ordinance was written so that when landlords apply for their rental license through L&I, the agency will look to see if the property is “lead safe” before issuing the license, thus completing a kind of proactive inspection. This is quite similar to how asbestos inspections work in the city; the asbestos inspection report form is due to L&I along with their permit applications.

However, due to the nature of Philadelphia politics, the Ordinance was instead held up in court, changes were made, parties were appeased, and the wheels continued to turn.

Regardless, the ordinance as it stands now was left largely intact, and is scheduled to go into effect in December. It will apply to all rental housing, with the following notable exceptions:

  • Housing built after March 1978
  • PHA housing (and Section 8 vouchers)
  • Housing exclusively rented to college students
  • Housing where no child 6 years or younger will be residing during the length of the lease

The last point brings up some significant points. First, the risk assessment only needs to have occurred a maximum two years prior to the START of the lease. Therefore, in large multi-unit housing, it would not be inconceivable for each unit to have a different inspection date, based on when it is leased out. I would hope landlords would realize the logistical challenges to this approach, and the benefits of economies of scale, but who knows? Second, the wording of the bill does not require the landlords to identify the age of the tenants in order  to determine if their rental unit meets the above criteria. If the city discovers that the landlords are in violation, then they will be subject to penalties, but there may not be a reporting requirement as written

Copies of the inspection and the “lead safe” or “lead free” certification must be provided to the Department of Public Health and the tenant with every new lease, along with a notification that the tenant will contact the owner or the owner’s agent if they see any deteriorated paint. The owner must promptly make any necessary repairs. Penalties for not complying with the lead free or lead safe certifications include an order to provide the required certification and to do the work to make the property lead safe; damages for any harm caused; fines up to $2,000; refund of rent for the period the property is occupied without the certification; and attorneys fees and costs.

Do you have any comments or questions about this new ordinance? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me at jromanchek@repsg.com.

Philadelphia’s Ghost Factories

USA Today’s recent investigation into ongoing lead contamination at sites of former lead smelters, which they term ‘Ghost Factories,’ has gotten a lot of coverage on environmental blogs lately. So, I decided to look and see what they say about Philadelphia. Not surprisingly, the majority of the smelter locations are in the east coast, with thirty-one located in Philly.

The newspaper’s method was to identify the location of former lead smelters (using Sanborn maps, of course), then went to 21 of those neighborhoods, and pointed an XRF analyzer at the ground, often in residents’ backyards. Most of these yards had elevated lead levels in the soil: 80% of of the neighborhoods had a median soil lead level above 80 ppm, several neighborhoods reached above 2,000 ppm. “Lead levels in the soil samples collected by USA TODAY were generally highest in places like Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia — where old inner-city neighborhoods mingled with industrial sites.”

The thrust of the story is the danger posed to children in these neighborhoods, and the lack of action by the EPA to address it.

Now, this bring up a few issue. First of all, it’s not like the EPA can conclusively hold the lead smelters accountable for contamination of an entire neighborhood. There are plenty of sources of lead in urban areas, it wouldn’t be hard to fight a charge. Yet, it shows a big gap in the superfund law. We do a lot of work to clean up brownfields. When a commercial transaction happens, due diligence functions as a useful screen to find out about contaminated sites and remediate them. Well, as long as there’s an interest in redevelopment. But no one conducts a Phase I when they buy an old rowhome in Kensington. What does USA Today think that the EPA is supposed to do here?

There are more than 400 of these ghost factories, only 230 are pinned down in this investigation. “Because most of the old smelters had operated for decades without any regulatory oversight and are now gone, little was known about the size of each factory, where they were located, how much lead they processed and how much pollution they left behind.” A start would be to find these factories. Then what, test everyone’s soil? Mount a massive education campaign? Pave every yard and park? It sounds a lot like the radon situation, a ubiquitous environmental hazard primarily affecting residences, and frustration about the EPA’s lack of action.

And speaking of Ghost Factories, REPSG’s own Jerry Naples received a shout-out on WHYY’s Radio Times recently. As part of the ongoing discussion of Ghost Factories in our city, Marty Moss-Coane featured the topic on her hour long PBS radio show Radio Times.  Her guests included USA Today reporter Allison Young, and Mary Seton Corboy, the founder of Greensgrow Farms in Kensington. Jerry Naples’ shout out came about halfway through the interview, when Mary was talking about the difficulty of developing neighborhood urban farms atop contaminated soils. Mary mentioned that Greensgrow was fortunate to have a member of their board who runs an environmental remediation company. That, my friends, would be REPSG.

You can download and listen to the whole interview on WHYY’s website here and hear how the USA Today’s report has started (or re-started) the conversation of residential pollution in urban environments.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about ghost factories, lead contamination, radon, or any environmental hazards in your community? Feel free to leave a comment below  or contact me at jromanchek@repsg.com.