New Bern Lead Abatement Ordinance

In May 2000, the city of New Bern, North Carolina, passed an ordinance to require lead-safety precautions during renovation and remodeling activities in residential dwellings built prior to 1978. The goal of the ordinance is to ensure that renovation activities in homes that may have lead-based paint do not create lead hazards. The ordinance institutes precautions similar to the HUD lead standards applicable to federally-assisted housing (24 CFR Part 35).

The ordinance is triggered when (1) a property owner applies for a permit to conduct a renovation project, (2) a property is being repainted, and (3) renovation or repainting is required due to a minimum housing code investigation. If the work will occur in a building built prior to 1978 (when lead-based paint was banned from residential paint), the city refers the applicant to the Environmental Health Section of the Craven County Health Department, which then oversees the implementation of the lead safety precautions. The applicant may either test the paint for lead or assume its is lead-based. If testing documents that the paint is not lead-based (i.e., lead content is less than 1 mg/cm² or .5% by weight), the building is not subject to the ordinance and the Environmental Health Section issues a statement verifying the exemption. If the paint is lead-based or the applicant assumes the paint is lead-based, several requirements apply. The requirements are shown below and in Figure 2.

1. The applicant must follow “lead-safe” work practices, identified in the PMP.

2. The workers must be trained in lead-safe work practices or the onsite supervisor must be certified as a lead abatement supervisor. New Bern will accept any lead training approved by HUD under the “Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Federally-Owned Housing and Housing Receiving Federal Assistance” regulation (i.e., 24 CFR Part 35). HUD has approved a course developed by Craven County and several federally sponsored courses.

3. Applicants must obtain a permit from the city acknowledging that they complied with the lead requirements. The Environmental Health Section recommends to the city whether the permit should be granted (indicating how the applicant meets the lead requirements) or whether additional actions must be conducted before a permit is issued.

4. Units must pass clearance testing that includes a visual assessment for dust and debris in the work area and environmental testing of dust for lead. New Bern uses the dust testing protocol defined in the HUD’s regulation (24 CFT 35.1340). Dust lead loadings cannot exceed 40 micrograms per square foot (μg/sf²) on floors, 250 μg/sf² on window sills, and 800 μg/sf² on window troughs. The Environmental Health Section provides free clearance testing. If a unit fails clearance, the contractor is remanded to re-clean the unit and another examination is required until the unit achieves clearance.

5. Once a unit passes clearance, the city issues a Certificate of Occupancy.

Program Participation: During the eight months the ordinance existed in 2000 (i.e., May through December), participation was as follows:

  • Twenty-five permits were issued;
  • Seven units underwent clearance testing by the Environmental Health Section;
  • Four units passed clearance testing;
  • Three units failed clearance initially (two of the three units were re-cleaned and passed clearance, no further action occurred at the remaining unit);
  • None of the units that passed clearance applied for a PMP Certificate of Compliance; and
  • Eighty-seven workers received lead training during nine courses offered by the Environmental Health Section.

Linkages to the Preventative Maintenance Standard: Although the ordinance does not require property owners to participate in the PMP, the goals are consistent and the required activities create opportunities to tell owners about the benefits of the PMP. Thus, the ordinance could function as a potential supply of units for the PMP. However, to date none of the units that obtained a permit under the ordinance (25 units) and none of the units that passed clearance (two units with a common owner) applied to participate in the PMP. It is not clear why the owner of these units did not participate in the PMP.

Catalyst for Ordinance: Momentum to pass the ordinance was created by three separate events. First, in the fall of 1999 two girls were lead poisoned in the city; one girl required chelation therapy. The case received substantial press coverage that peaked the interest of local politicians in possible lead poisoning prevention initiatives. Second, the Environmental Health Section of the Craven County Healthy Department promoted amendments to the New Bern minimum housing ordinance to address lead hazards. These outreach efforts occurred during 1999 through 2000 with a limited response from the city. Third, a city resident and homeowner familiar with the risks of lead hazards during renovation took a leadership role in promoting mandatory lead-safety precautions during renovation activities. Her involvement was spurred when a neighbor used hydro- blasting to remove lead-based paint on the exterior of their home. This paint removal strategy spread lead dust and debris into the neighbors yard and porch, putting the neighbors children at risk of increased lead exposure. The combination of ongoing pressure from the Environmental Health Section, specific cases of lead poisoning and unsafe renovation, and a vocal advocate of lead-safety appear to have catalyzed action to help develop the ordinance. There was no publicity related to the adoption of the ordinance and no opposition to its passage.

Outreach Efforts: Efforts to promote the program began in August 2000, several months after adoption of the ordinance. City activities focused on the contracting community, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, and the city permitting section. The Environmental Health Section is promoting and conducting training classes on lead safety during renovation, remodeling and repainting. Courses occurred initially weekly and then monthly.

Potential Benefits: The ordinance has several unique elements that could benefit lead poisoning prevention efforts and the PMP.

It integrates lead concerns into the General Construction ordinance and the existing building permitting process. (A new Paint Permit is required only when the job is limited to repainting.) Streamlining lead precautions reduces administrative costs and sends clear signals that lead-safe practices should be part of the typical renovation and repainting project.

It increases the number of contractors and property owners who receive lead training. Contractors will use these lead-safety precautions on jobs with the lead renovation permit and may apply them during other jobs where a permit is not obtained but the unit may contain lead-based paint. Owners may become more informed consumers of renovation services and demand lead-safety precautions when work occurs in older homes.

It minimizes the chances that an occupant will move into a unit with lead hazards after a renovation and repainting job since clearance is required.

The program could help create a pool of owners likely to participate in the PMP since their units would satisfy nearly all PMP requirements and thus the costs of obtaining compliance would likely be minimal. However, because there is no direct requirement or financial incentive to enroll in the PMP it is unclear if simply having a unit that generally meets the PMP standards will entice owners to participate.

Potential Limitations: The structure of the ordinance could impose some limitations on its effectiveness in reducing lead poisoning and increasing enrollment in the PMP.

Owners conducting their own work and contractors operating outside the permit process may not be aware of the requirement for the Paint Permit.

Outreach and enforcement actions are critical to make the requirements a reality; limited resources are currently being devoted to this activity.

The requirements cannot be met without the active participation of the County Health Department. Some property owners and contractors distrustful of government participation or wary of bureaucratic delays could view the government participation (conducting an initial inspection of the property, issuing a recommendation for a permit, conducting the clearance testing) as a disincentive for compliance.

A second and unique permit is issued which could translate into added costs for the city and may be perceived as complicating the renovation process.

Because PMP enrollment is not mandatory, it may not yield substantial increases in PMP participation.

Anticipated Modifications in Ordinance Activities: The County Health Department plans to charge fees for the activities associated with this program (including clearance) to encourage enrollment. For example, the County will waive the $195.00 fee for clearance testing if the property is enrolled in the PMP.

PMP Activities During Fall 2000: In 2000, two units in Craven County applied for a PMP Certificate of Compliance. One unit obtained a Certificate in September 2000. A second unit owned by the same individual initially passed clearance testing but failed a second clearance examination conducted by state PMP staff. (An initial clearance is conducted at the County level and state staff may perform a clearance audit.) County staff hypothesize that the failure was influenced by demolition that occurred in the neighboring property. The owner has not yet reapplied for the Certificate.