Libby bill to mitigate toxic lead risk in older buildings clears Committee

Posted: March 28, 2017 | Senator Libby

Legislation would bolster safety standards for contractors in likely hazardous buildings.

A bill by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, to strengthen health safety protocols for contractors working in buildings with a high likelihood of containing toxic lead received majority support in the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on March 28.

The bill — LD 441, “An Act To Require Certification under the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule” — mirrors the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair and Painting rule, or RRP, and makes it enforceable under state law. The federal rule requires training and certification to do certain work on buildings at risk of containing lead.

“Even though the EPA began banning lead paint from widespread commercial use nearly 40 years ago, Maine children continue to be poisoned by lead,” said Sen. Libby. “That is shameful. It is past time that we made sure the contractors in this state have the training they need to safely deal with lead present in homes where they’re doing work.”

The committee voted 6-5 on party lines to recommend the Legislature pass an amended version of the bill. As amended, the legislation would require the Department of Environmental Protection to provide guidance to contractors on how to comply with the law. The bill also provides funding to help 250 individual contractors or firms obtain that certification each year. All the Democrats present voted to support the bill, while all Republicans voted against it.

Buildings constructed before 1978 are likely to contain lead-based paint, which could become disturbed in the course of the contractor’s work.  Hazardous lead dust can be released into homes when surfaces with lead paint, even from many decades ago, are disturbed. Those certified under the rule are trained in the use of lead-safe work practices, and requires renovation, repair, and painting firms to be EPA-certified.

Lead poisoning causes permanent and irreversible cognitive impairment. Children and their developing brains are especially at risk of damage from exposure to lead. According to the EPA, more than 20 percent of the Maine children diagnosed with lead poisoning between 2009 to 2014 were from the Lewiston-Auburn area.

The majority report of the committee earned the support of the Central Maine Property Managers Association, Maine State Housing, the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, the Maine Association of Realtors, and the Maine Real Estate Managers Association.

“Rough estimates indicate that relatively few contractors in Maine are certified under this rule,” said Sen. Libby. “This bill will help move that compliance rate in a positive direction and protect more Maine kids from the dangers of lead exposure.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for initial votes.