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RISMEDIA, July 31, 2010—(MCT)—Local contractors say a controversial new federal safety rule will increase home-remodeling costs in Manatee County, Florida, but by how much is a matter of debate. Beginning October 1, 2010, contractors will be required to take additional precautions when renovating structures where children could be exposed to lead dust from old paint. The new “lead-safe” practices apply to work on homes, day-care centers and schools built before 1978, when lead paint was banned for residential use because of health risks.

Contractors say they will comply with the new regulations but will pass the cost of compliance onto customers.

“Any government regulation such as this inevitably costs the customer or end user more money,” said John Kiernan, owner of Kiernan Remodeling & Design Inc. in Bradenton, Fla. “If you’re a pre-’78, you’re going to pay more.”

But how much is unknown and hotly debated.

Kiernan estimated $500-$2,000 per job, depending on the size and scope. The National Association of Home Builders said its members’ estimates average about $2,400, including an extra $60-$170 for a window replacement. But the Environmental Protection Agency counters that it might be as low as $8-$167 because some required equipment can be used in multiple jobs.

The agency issued the rules in 2008 because more than 1 million American children a year are at risk of being poisoned by lead-based paint. Exposure can lead to learning disorders, behavioral and reproductive problems and, in extreme cases, brain damage or death. The government estimates 38 million U.S. homes built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint.

Under the rules, contractors and their employees must take an eight-hour training course and become EPA-certified as lead-safe. In buildings with lead paint, workers will have to wear special outfits with air filters, goggles and hoods, protect work sites with heavy plastic, clean work areas thoroughly with special vacuums and post warning signs.

Violations carry potential fines of up to $37,500 a day, EPA said. The requirements don’t apply to homeowners doing their own renovation work.

The new requirements took effect April 22, 2010. But the agency since has twice postponed enforcement of them after contractors complained that the government had not provided enough trainers to help them meet the April deadline.

The EPA and health advocates questioned that, noting that 160,000 people had been trained by that date.

“I think it’s a change, and whenever you have a big change like this you are going to have pushback from the industry,” said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the nonprofit National Center for Healthy Housing.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.