Ohio Senate cuts $1.3 million in lead paint training from $75 billion budget

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Ohio Senate’s $75 billion budget bill includes a 5% tax cut that will cost the state $874 million, but removed $1.3 million to promote lead-safe training and certification.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s initial budget included spending $650,000 in each of the next two years to establish a program administered by the Ohio Department of Health that would enforce the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule.”

The rule, established in 2010, requires contractors to be certified in lead-safe practices before performing renovations, repairs or painting on homes built before 1978, which is the year lead paint was banned by the EPA for consumer use.

The money would allow the state to enforce the federal law that requires contractors be properly certified, something “very few” are in Ohio, said Tim Johnson, policy advocate for the Ohio Poverty Law Center.

The rule was established to protect children from lead dust that gets kicked up in homes when paint is disturbed. A January 2021 report by DeWine’s Lead Advisory Committee recommended that the state take responsibility for the program.

“We are hopeful that this would be reinstated in conference committee,” said DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney.

Federal law allows states to take over enforcement of the rule; currently 14 states and one Native American tribe administer their own programs, according to the EPA website.

The rule requires contractors to not only be certified in lead-safe practices but to use them in the workplace. Examples of those practices might be using extra plastic or tarps to keep lead chips from spreading, wetting surfaces to keep down dust, and using special paint to encapsulate lead paint where appropriate.

If Ohio takes over the program, it would reduce the certification fee charged to contractors, as well as the fines for non-compliance, Johnson said, but there would still be additional costs to implement the lead-safe practices, which vary depending on the size and scope of the project.

The EPA estimated the “average absolute costs” of compliance for a typical job performed on a single-family home to be $35 to $376, but less for contractors who already adhered to some lead-safe practices.

Johnson said the fines and fees associated with the program would make it self-sustaining so that the state would not have to allocate additional funds in future budgets.

State Sen. Matt Dolan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said some of his fellow senators argued that enforcement of the rule would drive up the cost of home repairs and that contractors can learn lead-safe practices on their own.

“We’re still looking at it,” he said of the budget item. “I hope it makes its way back in the budget.”

Asked to comment on the importance of the program, the Ohio Department of Health provided a written statement that says exposure to lead “can seriously harm a child’s health” and lead to brain damage, even death.

“Taking proper measures to control lead paint and its dust in homes built prior to 1978 reduces lead hazards, allowing problems to be addressed before a child is harmed by lead exposure,” the statement says.

Johnson said homes with lead paint are found all over the state, but it’s known that there are large concentrations of them in urban areas.

Lead poisoning in Cleveland, where the vast majority of the housing stock was built before 1978, has been identified as a serious problem and the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition recently asked the Cleveland City Council to use federal American Rescue Plan dollars to address the lead paint problem.