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NPCA objects to misstatements, unsafe practices of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode

By Tim Wright | May 9, 2008

NPCA objects to misstatements, unsafe practices of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode

In a letter to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, National Paint and Coatings Association (NPCA) president J. Andrew Doyle expressed concern over misstatements made and unsafe work practices shown during the May 4 edition of the show, which focused on demolition and re-building of a home contaminated with lead.

The letter stated:

"...The misconceptions conveyed during the show were so glaring that they surely warrant a broadcast and web site correction prior to airing your next episode, so as to avert putting millions of viewers at risk.

First, the show gave the impression that any home containing lead paint would require total removal of lead paint from all surfaces before the home could be safe. This absolutely is not true in the majority of cases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that intact lead-based paint is not a hazard, when preventive maintenance such as paint stabilization or repainting is properly done. In such cases, lead cannot "seep through 20 layers of paint" as show host Ty Pennington claimed!

The Rhode Island Health Department required the Silvas to completely abate the lead-contaminated areas of their property because they have foster children under their care. But, the methods used to tear down the home were dangerous and unhealthy to the individuals involved, and definitely were not consistent with lead-safe work practices outlined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and EPA. Should a contractor or homeowner who watched your show attempt to abate a lead-contaminated area in such a manner, such activity would not only exacerbate the problem, it would create an even worse lead hazard.

Removal of contaminated yard soil was depicted as "necessary" on the show, but Rhode Island law only requires removal and replacement of the top six inches, not the several feet of removal shown. Certainly the bare soil depicted in the show is very problematic, and was described as the most likely source of lead exposure. When contamination is suspected, bare soil in children's play areas can be remedied in a number of other ways described by HUD and EPA, including restricting access (to bare areas), growing grass, and/or mulching a designated area. Your show mentioned none of these methods.

The nation has learned a valuable lesson from the asbestos clean-up problems in schools and other public and private buildings. Tearing out walls and full abatement models often backfire. That's why EPA and HUD have refined complete lead-safe work protocols to avoid the inadvertent release of lead during remodeling and rehabilitation. These protocols have proven to be successful, but there was no hint of concern for safety among the workers on your show.

The paint industry has been a partner with others supporting the non-profit, recognized, independent Community Lead Education and Reduction Corps (CLEARCorps USA) which, since 1995, has been in major urban centers (including Providence, Rhode Island) performing key education of the dangers of lead exposure and targeted remediation. CLEARCorps, which is part of the AmeriCorps network, understands the practical aspects of the lead-in-residence threat, and would not advocate the type of abatement demonstrated on your program as either emblematic of the problem or a good demonstration of a solution, except in rare instances.

In addition, the paint industry has delivered free training for over four years using the approved EPA-HUD protocol in every state and Washington, D.C. to contractors, landlords, tenants, homeowners, state officials, local officials and lead advocates. In 700 full-day training sessions, 17,000 people have been trained and over 95% have completed a test to certify understanding of the protocol. This is training that your crew could, and should, take before attempting work on another lead-contaminated residence.

Participating in this training would ensure that they are properly protected during such projects and, most importantly, your viewing audience will see the work being performed in a safe and appropriate manner.

One thing that your show did not mention is that the incidence of childhood lead poisoning is on the decline nationally and in the state of Rhode Island. This is due, in large part, to the concerted efforts of government, advocacy groups, concerned parents and industry. In a recent Rhode Island Department of Health report, the incident rate of childhood lead poisoning had dropped over 80% in the last 10 years, and in the City of Warwick, out of 1,812 children who were screened for the first time last year, 15 cases of elevated blood lead levels were identified. This clearly demonstrates lead poisoning prevention policies that have been put in place in Rhode Island, and around the country, are working.

The misstatements made during this episode of your show absolutely need to be corrected, for the safety and education of the viewing public. Doing so will lessen the risk of harm to those following the example witnessed on your show and will serve to clarify the gross inaccuracies presented therein.

An immediate on-air update plus postings to the ABC network, news and Good Morning America web sites will certainly help reach out to the millions of viewers who need to receive the correct, safe information.

I look forward to your quick response and prompt correction before the next broadcast..."