Lead-Based Taint

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My wife and I recently hired a general contractor to remodel our bathroom. This small- businessman, whose livelihood depends on reputation and referral, was friendly, punctual, and professional. He worked with a small handful of very competent subcontractors and in short did a fantastic job on our new bathroom.

We had the good fortune to work with him before April 22, 2010. After this date, every contractor who might disturb paint in a home built before 1978 (i.e., every contractor) will be burdened with a spiffy new federal regulation. He must be EPA certified to “Conduct Lead-Based Paint Activities and Renovations.” Once again, the EPA has masterminded another diabolical plan to abuse small business and hamper any economic recovery Americans might have hoped for.

On its surface, the burden may seem negligible: $550 in application fees and about as much again in training costs, depending on the training facility. Of course you must, on top of that, account for the time and energy that go into application paperwork and training. For a larger business, that may be negligible. But any passionate entrepreneur who has tried to get a very small, personal business off the ground knows this is soul-crushing. If he could scrape an extra grand together, the very small businessman would wisely use it to feed his family or buy tools so he could do his job better and bring in more clients. He needs every ounce of time, energy, and focus he can muster in order to do the real work of running his business. If he did happen to have any spare time and energy left, he’d need it for doing all the extra recordkeeping and accounting required to fill out his Schedule C at the end of the year.

Our contractor indicated plans to go through with the certification process and stay in business, but how many budding construction apprentices will simply abandon their own small business plans? Rather than start their own contracting business and perhaps employ others, they’ll sit on the sidelines while the big boys play in a smaller and smaller competitive field, driving up prices for the consumer.

I didn’t do the most thorough investigation possible, but I did pull up a few scientific reports on lead from the EPA website. Surprisingly, most were simple measures of lead levels and mechanisms for studying or reducing those levels. Conducting a title perusal and opening a handful of such reports, I could find none with detail on what levels would actually cause harm in humans. In fact, the first report I pulled up stated that cases with severe health effects are very rare, that many health effects require “extremely elevated blood lead levels,” and that “the threshold for harmful effects of lead remains unknown.”

Lead paint may indeed be dangerous. Many CDC apologists have informed me that my libertarian philosophy is a direct result of brain damage from overexposure to lead paint during my childhood. Nevertheless, is it really necessary for the federal government to protect me from this danger? Is it necessary to protect me in a way that drives a fist into the nose of struggling independent businessmen? Is it necessary to do this at a time when our economy is tanking hard?

People who are concerned about living with lead should be free to pay a little extra for the advice of an expert in that field. People who are not should be free to take their own chances.

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