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Macon lead-safe class aims to certify more contractors

Houses built before 1978 most likely contain lead-based paint, and any renovation, repair and painting work done on these houses can disturb that paint, causing health and environmental issues.

Even a little bit of lead dust is enough to poison a child and be harmful to adults.

So in an attempt to protect the public, five years ago, Georgia’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rules, which mirrors the federal requirements, became effective. It requires any type of contractor, such as painting, electrical, plumbing or general contractor, who works on a project involving lead paint to become certified.

But sometimes it’s tough to find a certified worker, said Ethiel Garlington, executive director of the Historic Macon Foundation.

Not long ago an applicant appeared before the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission’s Design and Review Board who wanted to replace the windows in a historic house. But he said there were so many regulations regarding lead that “he couldn’t find a qualified contractor to actually replace the windows,” Garlington said.

So Historic Macon, along with some funding help from NewTown Macon and the InTown Neighborhood Association, decided to host a lead-safe certification training program that will be held Friday. The daylong course would normally be $250 a person, but it has been discounted to $125 each. For more information, contact Kim Campbell at kcampbell@historicmacon.org or call 478-742-5084.

“There seemed to be a need for more certified contractors in the area, and it was something we could help accomplish,” Garlington said. “We have over 6,000 buildings on the National Register (of Historic Places), and all of those would be required to go through this lead process and thousands more in our county.”

While not every house would have lead paint, “it’s important to err on the side of caution,” he said.

Someone who is not certified may not know everything he is supposed to be doing. For example, in some cases “it’s better to contain the lead by painting over it and not disturbing it. ... We’ve heard from contractors who have been forced to stop work because they are not in compliance.”

To be certified, workers have to attend an approved eight-hour training class and pass a test with a score of 70 percent or better, said James Jackson, environmental specialist with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The certification class covers subjects such as proper removal and disposal of lead-based paint components and proper respirator protection, Jackson said.

Also, his division oversees the licensure of contractors who do lead paint abatement, which is when someone totally removes components from a building with no intent of putting it back, he said.

If a contractor is doing an abatement project, he is required to notify the EPD, Jackson said. With a renovation project, notification is not required, but the contractor has to file a Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule form.

“If a homeowner is doing the renovation, they would be exempt from the certification requirement, but they have to follow the solid waste management rule for properly containerizing the waste and proper disposal of the waste,” Jackson said.

People who are found in violation of the law could be fined up to $37,500 or sent to prison for five years, he said.

Contractor Tony Long said handling lead-based paint issues properly is important.

“Lead is a problem, and you need to take care of it,” he said.

But although he got certified two years ago “because it’s the law,” Long has strong feelings about the requirement and the process.

“This is not something I just started dealing with two years ago,” he said. “Twenty-five or 30 years ago I did a lot of public housing (work), and to a large degree we did it the same way we are doing it now with the certification. ... The certified thing is a bureaucracy that got thrown on -- it doesn’t cover everybody.”

Also, Long said he would like to see the certification class held at night or on weekends, so contractors don’t have to take a day off from work, he said.

“They don’t make it convenient for the small contractor that they are trying to get,” Long said. “I don’t have a day to lose.”

The contractors who don’t follow the rules now are not going to get certified, he said.

“For every company that’s certified, there are five or six that are not certified out there and that are never going to be certified,” he said. “If (the government) just policed it, the certification is not necessary.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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