Many people today are aware that homes built before 1978 are at risk for containing lead-based paint. The government has made it a point in past years to educate the public about the risks of lead exposure and protect them when possible. For instance, when selling your home you are obligated to disclose any knowledge of lead-based paint in your home, and home buyers are given a pamphlet explaining the risks and harms of lead.
Recently, the Illinois government took it a step further. Building contractors, workers, and property managers are now required to be certified to perform certain types of work on homes built before 1978 unless the home has been tested and determined not to have lead-based paint. This means that if you, for instance, hire someone to replace the windows in your home which was built in 1950, the contractor must have this government certification.
So what if you hire someone who isn’t certified? The homeowner isn't responsible (and, by the way, the homeowner can choose to do the work himself/herself without needing certification). However, the contractor you hire can be fined up to $32,500 per day, per offense if caught.
Is it just me, or is this fine a little excessive? Obtaining the certification is not cheap to begin with, but if you can’t afford the certification classes and continue to do certain work on these older homes, you can be slapped with a fine large enough to put the average person in financial peril. In a market like Champaign-Urbana where so many homes in entire neighborhoods were built before 1978 (and where the estimated per capita income is only around $25,000), this new law creates serious difficulties for ordinary, hard-working people and small businesses.
For the record, I am aware that the effects of lead exposure on people, especially children, is devastating, and I am truly sympathetic to anyone who has been affected in such a way. But I do not believe that this new law will lessen the number of lead exposure cases seen in the state of Illinois. Instead the law will make criminals of ordinary people who cannot afford to obtain the certification, but need the work.
Furthermore, though I've had difficulties finding exact statistics, it appears as though most lead exposure cases are due to deteriorating buildings (such as chipping windowsills) rather than due to contractors' negligence. Many other cases involve foreign-made children's toys or jewelry which contain lead, but have nothing to do with paint at all.
In February I attended a meeting held to make the public aware of the new law. During the meeting, the presenter stated that the government would likely be looking to “make examples” of those who were caught violating this new law. Does our government really believe that making examples of our working citizens is the only way to educate the public on the harms of lead-based paint? Is this really the best they could come up with?
Again, please do not take this commentary to mean that I have no concern regarding the danger of lead exposure; clearly, it’s a very real problem and is something the public should be aware of. I simply don’t think that this new law is the solution.