A new EPA regulation specifically depends on plumbers to spread the word on the dangers of lead paint.

In June of 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency implemented a new disclosure rule for lead paint. This is the second stage of the homeowner notification rules regarding lead paint, which was first enforced in 1996.

If you are in the agency's Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), you probably already have received notification from the agency about the "Lead-Based Paint Pre-Renovation Education Rule." From what I understand, only Region 5 sent out the notice. But make no mistake about it - this is a federal law that applies throughout the country.

If you didn't read the information sent by the EPA, I would suggest you find it and read it thoroughly. The new rule applies to any contractor who is compensated for doing repairs or renovations in homes and housing units built before 1978. I would hope that most of you are compensated for your work, and a good majority of you work on older residential buildings.

For good measure, the EPA has specifically identified plumbers as a trade to which the rule applies. Hence, don't think you can skirt the ruling. My advice is to follow the rule.

While the rule has been in place for more than a year, most people don't know about it. Unless you have been following the requirements, you may have already violated the rule. Of course, the EPA is not looking to get you, they are trying to help you implement the rule. That is why the information is being placed in the hands of contractors. Right now, they are in the "compliance assistance" stage. That means they don't want to prosecute you; they are interested in informing you and getting the educational program in place.

What To Do

The rule requires you to hand out an educational pamphlet called, "Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home," to every homeowner, building owner, tenant, and property manager. The pamphlet must be given to the owner before any renovation takes place.

However, it cannot be handed out more than 60 days before the start of renovation. If you mail it, the pamphlet must be mailed a least seven days before the start of any renovation. However, you can hand it to them the day you start work.

In addition to handing out the pamphlet, you must obtain proof that you delivered the pamphlet. The EPA provides forms that can be signed by the owner indicating that they received the pamphlet. The proof of delivery must be maintained in your records for a period of three years. A certified mail receipt also serves as proof.

For emergency repairs, you are exempt from having to deliver the pamphlet. The government went through the trouble of defining "emergency repair." It is any unplanned activity in response to a sudden unexpected event that requires immediate attention to prevent a safety or public health hazard or prevent significant damage to property. You can recognize that emergency plumbing repairs falls into this category.

If you are like me, the first thing you are probably thinking is that the government is out pushing more useless paper and somebody is making money printing these pamphlets. Actually, the pamphlet is quite good. It is well written, and very educational. I must compliment the EPA on producing such a fine pamphlet.

While you can buy copies of the pamphlet from the federal government, you can also reproduce it yourself. Like all federal documents, the pamphlet is part of the public domain. That means there are no copyrights and anyone can reprint it. It is only 14 pages long (seven double-sided pages). You can download the pamphlet on the Internet at www.epa.gov/lead. This Web site also has all of the information regarding the rule.

Don't think of this pamphlet as being one of those worthless educational notices on the bottom of a box that says, "open other end." They must have left the lawyers out of it when they wrote the document. There is a lot of practical information packed into the 14 pages.

How Bad Is Lead?

We have become immune to the problems of lead. The plumbing industry has used lead for so long, it often seems like the government is presenting us with scare tactics. You may be wondering whether this lead issue has gone too far.

Before you slough this off, realize the true hazards of lead poisoning. In children, high levels of lead can result in damage to the brain, damage to the nervous system, behavioral and learning problems, slow growth, hearing problems, and headaches. In adults, high lead levels can cause difficulties in pregnancies, reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorders, memory loss, concentration problems, muscle pain, and joint problems.

Lead paint chips have a sweet taste. As a result, small children will eat paint chips. Lead can also be absorbed by breathing the fumes or touching the surface of lead products.

It has been well established that children under the age of 5 are the most susceptible to the problems of lead poisoning. Additionally, children's bodies tend to absorb more lead than adults.

Some historians believe that the decline of the Roman Empire was directly related to lead poisoning. The Romans had figured out how to use lead in goblets and plates. When drinking wine, they absorbed high concentrations of lead into their body.

Not That Old

The rule uses a cut-off date of 1978 for giving notification. Newer homes and residential units are not required to be given notice. When I read the rule, I realized that my home falls into this category. It was constructed in 1976. While I know there is no lead paint in my home, it would be difficult for you to know this. Furthermore, the homes on my block were constructed over a period of four years. Our house was one of the first. Hence, the later constructed houses on our block would not have to receive notification before any renovation.

This begs the question, "How do we know what the date of construction is for a given house or residential building?" You could spend all of your time researching the date of construction, or you could adopt a policy of just handing out the pamphlet to everyone. In my opinion, it would be cheapest and easiest to just hand the pamphlet out to everyone. For a couple of pages of photocopying, it is not a big deal. If you use signed contracts, it is one more paper to add to that phase of doing business.

It is easiest to just meet the federal rule. Ignoring this rule is not worth jeopardizing your company. Do your part in combating lead poisoning.