Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm
Regulations, lawsuit propel need for local expertise
They also are creating a growing industry of companies providing lead and asbestos remediation training.
Rules on lead and asbestos handed down by the US Environmental Protection Agency EPA to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) require contractors involved in disturbing or removing asbestos to be certified.
And before they are certified, they must be trained.
"Private firms do the training," Gail Boushon, supervisor of the DHFS Asbestos and Lead Section said. "DHFS develops curriculum and monitors the training organizations."
The regulations provided an opportunity for an entrepreneur such as Ada Duffey, whose Milwaukee Lead/Asbestos Information Center, Inc. provides the lion’s share of such training in the state. Duffey bought the company in 1996 from her employer, Bay View developer Bill Doyle.
"The asbestos and the lead issues were affecting his properties," Duffey said. "He took the training and found this was an opportunity."
Duffey’s company trains 30 to 100 people each month. Since she purchased the company, business has increased by 50%.
Duffey wound up on the right side of a regulatory trend. The state first required certification of asbestos workers in 1989.
This year, about 3,000 people are certified in the state.
In 1993, the state required that lead paint remediation contractors receive training, and the state also began requiring that remodelers who simply disturb lead paint distribute a pamphlet on the hazards the substance presents.
About 1,000 people have been certified for lead paint remediation in the state this year, according to Boushon, who said that number continues to slowly grow annually.
"Part of the problem is that the requirement to be certified to do lead abatement only applies to residences and child-occupied facilities, whereas asbestos applies to all locations," Boushon said.
Under current rules, training is required only for those who "have the intent to reduce or remove a lead hazard," Boushon said.
"We have many painting and remodeling contractors that are disturbing lead, but they just have to distribute the pamphlet. EPA at the federal level has been mandated to work on that," Boushon said. "They have a training program in the works. So we do offer a lead-safe training and a lead-safe workplace class. Once EPA has finalized their rule, we will develop a rule on the state level.
"We have a lot of apartment owners who will send their maintenance workers to this because 20% of the lead poisonings in the state is related to non-abatement work – just renovation and remodeling," Boushon said.
The rule was expected to appear in the federal register around January of 2001. But the change in administrations has caused a delay, according to Boushon.
While state and federal regulation does not address mold, a $32 million settlement for a toxic mold lawsuit in Texas has had building owners, contractors and others scrambling to learn as much as they can about avoiding and remediating mold.
Ahead of curve
Duffey is working to get in front of this trend, as well.
"If mold exists naturally both inside and outside, and now people are getting sued for it, what do they do?" Duffey asked.
Duffey will conduct a mold seminar Oct. 15 at the Clarion Hotel in Conference Center in Milwaukee. Microbiologists, regulators, allergists and attorneys will speak on potentially malicious microorganisms.
Duffey’s firm also is planning a mold abatement class in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Mid Atlantic Environmental Hygiene and Resource Center Nov. 19-20, at a site that is yet to be determined in the Milwaukee area. The event will include a small trade show for businesses riding the wave of torte law and regulation.
"We will have 23 vendor booths," Duffey said. "We will have asbestos remediation contractors, mold remediation specialists – they are usually offshoot of water and fire damage contractors. There will be environmental engineers, HEPA vacuum manufacturers."
Duffey and Boushon said residential renovation or remodeling contractors should learn all they can about hazardous substances they come into contact with.
"People focus narrowly, and a lot of the time, the materials that are being disturbed have all three in combination – mold, lead and asbestos," Duffey said. "Contractors need to be aware of these issues."
The common denominator for all three substances is dust control, and methods to reduce particulate matter on the site need not be complex.
"Usually the measures are very low-cost," Boushon said. "One of the measures is that if you have someone doing a lot of drilling, you put a dab of shaving cream on the drill and when you are done, you wipe it off."
But the standards for dust control are rigorous, particularly on renovation projects that will house federal governmental offices, such as the US Department of Commerce or Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
"If the tenant receives the rent from the government – those landlords are held to a higher standard," Duffey said. "Projects with the Department of Commerce have to use certified people. They also have to do clearance testing. They take a baby wiper and wipe a measured area and turn that into a lab to see how much lead dust remains.
"If you take a Nutrasweet pack full of lead and spread it over 100 rooms that are 10 feet by 25 feet – that’s right where the threshold is. That’s how clean these HUD floors need to be," Duffey said.
"That is good for people to know, even on non-HUD projects. What it comes down to is dust control. We have had people doing this lead work for years. For contractors that already keep a clean and neat job site, this is nothing new. The big thing they need to do is use a shop vacuum."
Sept. 27, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee