Anthony D’Agostino, a painter and restoration contractor who advertises his business in Portland as eco-friendly, said he believes in strict laws on lead paint removal to protect the health of children.

But he said some provisions in the federal regulations that took effect Thursday attempt too much, too soon.

“This whole thing couldn’t be worse timing. They should have done this three or four years ago, before the economy crashed,” D’Agostino said.

He is among thousands of painters, plumbers, replacement window installers and other contractors nationwide who are grappling with Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring lead-safe practices when working on homes built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned.

The rules affect an estimated 20,000 home contractors in Maine, which has some of the oldest housing in the country. State officials estimate that more than 60 percent of the housing stock falls under the regulations.

The rules, approved two years ago, require contracting firms to follow lead-safe work practices such as using disposable plastic sheeting and approved vacuums to contain dust and debris. Contractors must be certified, and each job must be overseen by a certified renovator who has eight hours of training from an accredited agency.

Contractors are complaining about enforcement, the cost of compliance and the long waiting lists for courses offered by the two accredited training companies in Maine.

The training sessions offered by Environmental Management in Brunswick and the Maine Labor Group on Health in Augusta cost $85 to $110. Several out-of-state firms that offer training in Maine charge more. Contractors must also pay $300 to the EPA to be certified. Both fees are good for five years.

John Benoit of Environmental Management said part of the problem is that the EPA was slow to accredit companies like his. Benoit said his company began the process in late September but wasn’t accredited until three weeks ago.

He said his company is booked through June and has a waiting list of several hundred contractors.

D’Agostino, the painter in Portland, said there are other provisions that make no sense. He said he is no longer allowed to reuse the thick plastic tarps that are required for older homes.

“They have to be thrown away after every job. There is no reusing anything. It will create insane amounts of waste,” he said.

Another big concern involves enforcement. It’s not clear how the EPA intends to monitor compliance, Benoit said.

The agency has been deluged with questions about the new regulations. Its lead information website — www.epa.gov/lead/ — has been overwhelmed at times. The EPA’s regional office in Boston did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Maine state officials praised the new regulations, which they said will protect children from health problems related to lead exposure. But they said contractors in the state, who have a shorter construction season and a higher percentage of older homes than those in other states, could have used more time to comply.

“The time frame is very compressed. It is obviously making problems,” said Mark Hyland, director of the Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management in the Department of Environmental Protection.

The state has its own law, dating from 1997, that requires contractors to take steps to prevent the release of lead into the environment. Hyland said the DEP has asked the EPA to go easy on contractors who are trying to comply with the federal regulations.

“We asked EPA to target the people who are not doing it right,” said Hyland.

Violators can be fined as much as $35,000 a day. That has many contractors concerned.

Rob Davidson, a carpenter from New Harbor who has signed up but not yet received his training, said he has no idea if he could be fined if he continues to work on a 19th century home. “I am possibly doing something illegal,” he said.

Some contractors say they are skeptical about effective enforcement.

Bill Moore, president of Moore Painting in Yarmouth and Brunswick, said half of his competition comes from “fly by night” operators who haven’t been complying with other laws, such as worker’s compensation.

Christer Mattsson of Mattsson Painting in Scarborough said he has already lost one job, for a homeowner who he suspects gave the work to a contractor who isn’t following lead removal regulations.

“It is very frustrating,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com