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It's Raining Lead

Say a company hires an out-of-state, non-accredited contractor to abate lead paint from a broadcast tower. Say that contractor is fond of hydroblasting but not fond of containment. The result is a power shower of lead chips onto everything below. And the State AG is peeved.

7 June, 2023

Painting a tower can be very dangerous for the contractor, and if it’s done really really poorly, it can also become a risk to an entire community. In this case, it’s not a water tower but a television tower in Baltimore. In quite the Hitchcockian development, lead paint chips have been falling from this tower, into the neighborhood below. According to an article by Clara Longo in The Baltimore Banner, the Maryland Department of Environment has filed a lawsuit against  the owner of the tower as well as the contractor — a tower painting company from Nebraska hired to scrape and repaint it.

The state is seeking an injunction that would require the company to recover the paint chips from a half-mile radius around the tower and then complete the project with properly accredited workers.

Don’t let the chips fall where they may

The complaint, filed in Baltimore City Court, explains that lead paint exposure presents a health danger to young children and that paint chips were found in areas where children are likely to be present. “Areas that paint scrapings were found include a child daycare center, a local playground and park, a college athletic field, and various residences as far as one-half mile away,” said a release filed by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

“We cannot have industrial contractors risk public health in large swaths of Maryland communities by conducting unsafe lead abatement projects by untrained, unaccredited workers. In this case, lead literally rained down on thousands of people, including children.” said Attorney General Anthony Brown. “Lead paint disproportionately affects children, especially those living in overburdened communities, and its harmful effects can be lifelong.”

In her article, Longo says the state is also seeking reimbursement for soil testing, as well as seeking to impose financial penalties up to $25,000 per day for the lead accreditation issue, lead abatement performance and hazardous waste violations. On top of that, she writes, there could be fines of up to $10,000 per day for solid waste, open dumping and nuisance creation violations.

The report filed by the state puts the blame mainly on the paint job. “[The painting company] removed lead paint from the tower by scraping and hydroblasting with minimal controls,” the complaint alleges. “The force of the hydroblasting and high winds at the height of the tower caused the spread of lead paint dust and chips to spread as far as half a mile, an area that includes four census tracts defined under state law as underserved communities.”

The peeling paint was identified on the tower as early as 2019, and while the Nebraska-based contractor was not accredited in Maryland, the owner of the 1,000-foot-high structure hired it for scraping, sanding, wire brushing, and other associated paint prep. According to the article, “residents reported seeing the workers power-washing the tower and grinding paint off of it.” The lead chips were discovered as much as a year ago, and although work was stopped on the tower and cleanup efforts were put in place, the tower has not been properly contained, and chips are still falling off.

No permit requested

An article from Inside Towers published nearly a year ago states that according to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the tower painting company should have requested a permit to begin the work but hadn’t done so, and they simply did the job improperly.  “The proper way to perform the work is to tarp the space so that paint chips don’t spread throughout the community and can be properly removed and disposed of safely,” said HCD spokesman Kevin Nash.

Meanwhile, an article published in the Baltimore Brew — which stated that the paint company took the necessary steps to become accredited by the state last summer — also reported on a meeting where residents didn’t want that company involved in the project any further, with one local contractor asking why a tarp wasn’t used in the first place. Residents asked why this company would be awarded a permit to resume work on the tower when it had behaved so irresponsibly in the past.

The press release from the Maryland AG’s office reminds us of the dangers of lead paint. “Lead-containing paint is a known and recognized threat to public health. It is the most common source of lead exposure in children, either through ingestion or inhalation of lead paint dust. Additionally, repeated low-level exposure to lead can bring cumulative and aggregated effects. Due to their developmental stages, children six years of age and younger are particularly at risk of impact from lead exposure, the effects of which are irreversible.

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