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New Regulations on Home Repairs Target Dangerous Lead Paint

When Elaine Mohamed took her son, Zachary Vanderslice, for his regularly scheduled check-up, doctors found high levels of lead in the then 9-month-old child’s system.

Mohamed, who lives in a 1920s property in East Rogers Park, hadn’t noticed any unusual symptoms in Zachary, now 8. She soon learned, however, that her apartment was filled with lead paint.

She was told at the time that her son’s lead level could cause a decrease in I.Q. and difficulties with behavior. Today, although Zachary is “doing excellent,” he was slow in learning to read and sometimes has behavioral issues. That could be attributed to the fact that he’s a typical 8-year-old boy.

“But you sort of wonder,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed was happy to hear about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Renovation, Repair and Painting regulation that takes effect April 22. Philip King, the environmental protection specialist with the U.S. EPA’s Chicago-based Region 5 office, called the rule’s scope “probably the most comprehensive to date because it covers private homes.”

The regulation requires contractors and other paid workers to be EPA-certified when replacing windows or renovating residential houses, apartments and child-occupied facilities built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned. The rule protects kids from leaded dust resulting from sanding or demolition in old houses.

Exposure to lead is not safe at any age; it can affect how a child’s brain grows and develops, as well as their behavior, cognitive skills, attention problems and I.Q.

The rule will protect 1.4 million children under the age of 6 annually, said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the Maryland-based National Center for Healthy Housing.

“It’s one of the most major regulations the EPA is doing this year,” Morley said.

There are 8.4 million renovation and repair jobs done annually across the U.S., affecting as many as 212,000 firms and 230,000 contractors, Morley said. Under the regulation, every job site in a pre-1978 house will need a certified renovator that has completed a $186, eight-hour course from an accredited training provider. The cost is $300 to become an accredited trainer.

The regulation will be enforced by the U.S. EPA. However, if Illinois becomes authorized by the EPA to conduct the program, it will become the Illinois Department of Public Health‘s responsibility, said Sam Churchill, manager of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Illinois Lead Program. Non-compliers could be fined up to $32,500 per day, he said, depending on various factors.

The number of children in Illinois with lead poisoning appears to be decreasing. In 2000, 23,063 Illinois children were identified with a blood lead level of 10 or greater, which is the number that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking action at, Churchill said. In 2007, that number decreased to 5,280, and in 2008, slightly more than 5,000 children had elevated blood lead levels. Yet experts say that no level of lead is safe for children.

“What we hope is that the generation of a lead hazard will be decreased in kids,” said Churchill.

Dr. Helen Binns, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Lead Evaluation Clinic at Children’s Memorial Hospital, said a survey of lead homes in the United States shows that nationally, 87 percent of homes built before 1940 have lead paint somewhere inside. That number drops to 69 percent for homes built between 1940 and 1959, and 24 percent for homes built from 1960 to 1977.

“So if you’re in an older house, which is most of the city of Chicago, there is a high likelihood lead is somewhere in your home,” Binns said.

Dean Amici, owner of the Chicago-based Amici Builders, said homeowners should now expect to add at least 10 percent cost-wise to a renovation. Property values and home sales on older properties could also be affected, he said.

“It’s gonna jack up the cost of remodeling for the average person through the ceiling,” Amici said.

Amici said he hasn’t seen any information or advertising regarding training or certification. “I think they’re going to have a (tough) time enforcing it,” he said. “It’ll be a field day for the lawyers.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health Lead Program is holding a series of meetings informing the public about the new rule, although none are scheduled in Chicago. Churchill said when scheduling the events, costs of the venue, parking, traffic, etc. were taken into consideration after speaking with possibly attendees.

Three Chicago-area meetings will be held at the following locations:

* Aurora Meeting
Tuesday, March 23
9 a.m. – noon
(8:30 a.m. Continental breakfast)
Holiday Inn, 2424 W. Sullivan Road

* Gurnee Meeting
Thursday, Feb. 18
9 a.m. – noon
(8:30 a.m. Continental breakfast)
Vista Hotel & Conference Center
6161 W. Grand Avenue

* Lisle Meeting
Wednesday, Feb. 17
9 a.m. – noon
(8:30 a.m. Continental breakfast)
Hyatt – Lisle Ballroom
1400 Corporetum Drive

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