The December 2011 issue of Qualified Remodeler featured a story about deconstruction (page 18), which prompted a reader to ask whether the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule impacts the reuse of building materials.
The Chicago-based Building Materials Reuse Association also was concerned about how RRP would affect the deconstruction and salvage industry. In January 2010, BMRA submitted a letter to EPA in which it asked EPA to help interpret the scope of the rule. Bob Falk, Ph.D., P.E., research engineer with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wis., and BMRA’s current president, says the letter specifically asked “Does the RRP rule apply to the salvage and reuse of building materials or components that may contain lead-based paint from target housing?”
The letter asked EPA to comment about BMRA’s interpretation of the rule, which is as follows: “While the rule does make reference to ‘waste management’ and addresses the disposition of ‘waste’ and ‘debris,’ we could find no reference to the disposition of salvaged building materials intended for reuse. As the RRP rule does not explicitly address the disposition of nonwaste materials, our interpretation is that the salvage and reuse of building materials that may contain lead-based paint is outside the scope of the RRP rule. We further assume that state regulations will dictate the reuse, resale or disposal of lead-based-paint-coated materials.”
EPA formally responded to BMRA’s letter and facilitated a session at the association’s national conference, DECON ’11, to address concerns related to deconstruction and reuse of building materials. “You can salvage these materials for reuse,” Falk says. “However, the sale of salvaged materials coated with lead-based paint is outside the scope of the RRP rule and is dictated by your state law. For example, here in Wisconsin, there is a state statute against selling building materials with lead paint on them.”
Falk adds this doesn’t imply you don’t have to follow the RRP rule when you remove materials. “If a contractor needs to disturb lead-based paint during remodeling, it doesn’t matter if the removed materials are for salvage or to be thrown away; the RRP rule still needs to be followed to contain any lead dust or chips. However, any removed component must be cleaned of lead dust or loose paint chips so lead is not spread around.”
Because RRP only applies to paid contractors, a homeowner can salvage components from his or her own home that contain lead paint and reuse them in an addition or another part of their own home. However, the homeowner should take the same basic precautions a paid contractor is required to take: Contain the lead and protect themselves, their family and the environment from lead contamination.
State laws vary, so some reuse stores may still accept and sell products that test positive for lead. “Most reuse stores are very conservative, and if an item tests positive for lead they won’t deal with it at all,” Falk notes. “However, if it’s something that has significant economic or historical value—a really fancy door with a lot of carving on it, for example—it may be worth the trouble of removing the paint. Removing lead-based paint from an item can poison you or the people around you, so extra caution and correct techniques should be used.” Falk adds BMRA has spoken with EPA about developing standardized labeling for materials so those that contain lead paint and are being sold in reuse stores will be clearly identified.
Ultimately, being aware of the risks of lead paint is the responsibility of everyone involved in the deconstruction process: the salvage company, general contractor who hires the salvage company, the reuse store, and the contractor or homeowner buying the salvaged item from the store. Falk recommends calling reuse stores to determine their policy on painted products before bringing materials to a store to sell or donate. He also suggests swab testing materials you plan to buy or sell to determine the presence of lead paint. “Don’t just test the surface paint because you may have non-lead-based paint on the top. There could be lead underneath, especially if it’s an older item. Cut through the paint layers with a sharp knife and then test,” Falk suggests.
Most importantly, Falk says not to be afraid of salvaging and reusing building materials. Lead can be harmful, but only if handled improperly. “I don’t think EPA considered people salvaging and reusing materials at all when creating the rule. Their main concern was that the lead chips and dust produced during the remodeling process are properly contained; disposed of; and don’t negatively impact the health of the inhabitants, the contractor and workers, or the environment.”