Lead Paint Contamination

Lead paint is still legally used on roadways, steel structures, and other non-residential applications in the U.S. and in most countries around the world. An estimated 90,000 bridges in the U.S. are coated with lead-based paint which become a hazard to workers when these structures are refurbished or demolished. Each year the State of Pennsylvania applies more than 1.6 million gallons of traffic line paint to create 114,000 miles of lines – enough to circle the globe five times. Up until recent years, all such road marking paint and most thermoplastics used on roadways contained high concentrations of lead. Lead chromate containing yellow striping materials for roadways contains approximately 20,000 parts per million (ppm) of lead and 5,000 ppm of hexavalent chromium – a known carcinogen. There is clearly a strong case for legislation to ban the use of lead paint for these applications.

The following describes just some of the documented incidents of environmental lead contamination and excessive exposures resulting from the use of lead coatings on structures:

• Officials in Waverly, Virginia learned that the interior of their municipal water tank was coated in a lead-based primer forcing the closure of the tank in 2016.

• A state legislator in Maine had collected soil samples and found lead contamination up to 32,000 parts per million (ppm) after a contractor for the Maine Department of Transpiration completed a project to repaint bridges along I-295 in 2016.

• A planned mural for an overpass in Decatur, Georgia was delayed in 2016 after lead paint was identified and had to be removed at a cost of $58,000.

• In 2017 Pacific Gas & Electric Co. embarked on a project to repaint 6,000 transmission line towers in California that were painted with lead-based paint. The project is expected to contribute significantly to the project’s costs that are transferred onto rate payers.

• In 2017 officials in New York City had reported that paint chips were peeling off at least seven elevated train platforms in areas of Queens that had triggered the need for extensive lead abatement.

• A stretch of beach in a Hawaii park was closed in 2017 after lead contamination from a bridge was found with levels up to 10,000 ppm in the soil.

• World War II era ships mothballed in the San Francisco Bay, California for possible reuse were found to contribute 20,000 tons of lead to the surrounding water before most were removed in recent years.

• The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Chicago-based Era Valdivia Contractors Inc. $287,440 after employees were exposed to dangerous lead hazards while sandblasting the steel structure of the Francisco Avenue Bridge in Blue Island, Illinois in 2014.

• OSHA cited a contractor working on the Bayonne Bridge linking Bayonne, New Jersey, and Staten Island, New York, in 2000 in response to an employee complaint that employees were experiencing high levels of lead in their blood due to improper removal of lead paint.

• In 2016, OSHA proposed $1,395,000 in penalties on the Fraser Shipyards Inc. the Wisconsin shipyard operator for 14 willful egregious health violations of overexposing workers to lead while retrofitting ships.

• Illinois Central Railroad Co. had been cited by OSHA in 2013 after it observed workers without the necessary safety and health protection while conducting demolition operations on a bridge that was coated with lead-based paint.

• The one-million-gallon Sternberg water tower in Hays, Kansas will be repainted after it was discovered that paint chips containing 32,900 ppm lead were falling from the tower.

• A study published in 2014 identified soil lead contamination on 26% of the 31 residential properties tested adjacent to six municipal water towers with lead paint in Southern Rhode Island. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3858391/pdf/nihms513529.pdf)

• In 2014 OSHA fined two construction companies for exposing workers to dangerous levels of lead paint from the exterior of a building in Lima, Ohio.