The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued new work practice standards for remodelers of older homes in an effort to reduce lead paint exposure, particularly among children. Set to take effect in April 2010, the new standards will extend to builders, painters, plumbers, and electricians working in all rental housing built before 1978, as well as in older non-rental homes inhabited by children under age six or pregnant women. The standards will apply to any renovation, repair, or painting contract involving the disturbance of more than 6 square feet of lead paint in an interior room or 20 square feet of lead paint on an exterior wall.

Under the "Lead: Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program" rule, contractors working under such conditions will be required to post warning signs, restrict occupants from jobsites, contain work areas to prevent the spread of dust and debris, conduct a thorough clean up, and verify the effectiveness of cleanup efforts. Supervisors will be required to complete a one-day training and certification class in accordance with the new EPA lead-safe work practices.

Healthy-home advocates have been quick to applaud the new standards as a step in the right direction, but some claim the rules aren't stringent enough.  Officials with the Alliance for Healthy Homes and the National Center for Healthy Housing have said the rule's cleanup mandate-what amounts to little more than a "white glove" test to rule out lead paint residue-is inadequate compared to "clearance testing," in which dust and soil samples are analyzed by a certified risk assessor for lead content upon completion of the job.

"Over the last two decades, the federal government and private industry have invested millions of dollars validating the existing quantitative clearance test, which assures families that their homes are safe following renovation," said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing.  "To replace the reliable quantitative test with the rule's qualitative test is very disappointing."

While lead exposure can pose health risks to people of all ages, young children are most at risk because their nervous systems are still developing, and because they are more likely to ingest lead residue from interior surfaces such as walls and window sills. Although the toxic metal was banned from residential use in 1978, nearly 38 million U.S. homes still contain lead-based paint, according to EPA estimates.

EPA is planning an extensive outreach campaign to promote awareness of the new requirements. "While there has been a dramatic decrease over the last two decades in the number of children affected by lead-poisoning, EPA is continuing its efforts to take on this preventable disease," James Guilford, assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances, said in a press release.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/lead or call 1-800-424-LEAD.

This article orginally appeared on Builder Online.