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Contractor Clouds PA Town with Lead Paint Dust

Friday, October 29, 2010

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A Pennsylvania town is grappling with potentially serious contamination of its air, water and residents after a contractor unleashed “clouds” of uncontained lead-based paint dust while blast-cleaning a building in the center of town.

The paint dust was so thick at one point that a witness who saw it from two or three blocks away thought the building was on fire and rushed to help, said Dave Meister, code and zoning officer for Danville, a community of about 5,000 in central Pennsylvania.

No Containment

The incident occurred Oct. 17 as Mark Ferrar, owner of Hawk Mountain Soda Blasting Co., of Orwigsburg, PA, blast-cleaned paint—apparently without any containment measures—from the front exterior of a brick, 19th-century three-story building on Mill Street, which is Danville’s main street.

The row building has a photography studio on the street level and apartments on the second and third floors.  The cleaning, done on a breezy Sunday, generated clouds of dust that “carried quite a ways,” said Meister.

Meister was out of town at the time but returned the next morning to find dust and debris all over the ground. “I could find a pile of this stuff,” he said.

Ferrar told a local reporter that he had not used a tarp during the job and had not covered anything before his crew started blasting.

"We didn't use one, because we were unaware of the ordinance in the city," Ferrar told The (Danville) Daily Item, referring to Danville’s nuisance ordinance, which prohibits smoke, water and other contamination. "Any debris that fell was swept up and power-washed down."

Ferrar did not respond Friday (Oct. 29) to a request for comment.

‘It Just Blows Away’

Meister says that when he called Ferrar the day after the job, “I asked him, ‘What did you do for containment?’ The guy almost chuckled and said, ‘You can’t contain this stuff. It just blows away.’”

Asked if he had tested for lead in the paint before beginning work, Ferrar said that both he and building owner Mike Kuziak, of Danville, had thought the building was last painted in the 1980s, after lead-based paint was banned, and so both assumed it had no lead.

Kuziak declined comment on Friday and said he had hired an attorney.

Lead Testing

Town officials then sent out paint samples to EMSL Analytic Inc., in New Jersey, to be tested for lead.

Meanwhile, Meister said, rain washed much of the dust into the city storm sewers, and the air cleared, although some paint chips remain.

The testing results came back Wednesday night (Oct. 27) and showed that the paint had a lead content of 11%—22 times the legal limit, Meister said.

Meister said he contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 3 Office both Wednesday night and Thursday morning, but received no response. An EPA spokesman said Friday that the agency’s Emergency Response office had no record of the calls.

Meister also said he contacted the Air Quality division of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is now involved. This week, he also contacted the DEP’s Water Quality division, which is expected to be involved soon. DEP did not return a phone call Friday.

Residents Notified

Once the lead was confirmed, the attention turned to Danville’s Halloween Parade, which was scheduled for Thursday morning. The parade is a 50-year-old tradition that lasts for hours and draws many spectators from other communities, Meister said.

Officials did not want children playing on the street—-or, worse, picking up candy tossed to them—so the parade was rerouted for the first time.

Residents of the building, as well as those in adjoining buildings, were informed of the problem, and community residents are being told to see their doctors if they are concerned or show flu-like symptoms that could indicate a high lead level.

Possibly most concerned is the owner of the photography studio, who works with children and was open that day. She “had clients coming in and out of her storefront in what was essentially a cloud,” Meister said. The photographer did not return a call Friday.

Approvals and Assurances

Meister said that Kuziak had appeared before the town’s Historical Review Board as required to get prior approval for the project. The board, which includes Meister, questioned Kuziak about lead safety, containment and clean-up plans. Kuziak seemed to understand the project’s risks, Meister said, and assured the board that his contractor would take care of everything.

The town has since learned that Ferrar is unlicensed, not certified in lead-safe practices, and has no knowledge of state and federal lead-safety laws (although “common sense says he should have been doing better practices,” Meister said).

Investigation Continues

Ferrar was cited under the town ordinance and banned from doing another job on a larger building across the street.

Meanwhile, efforts continue on many fronts—¬local, state and federal—to investigate the issue and plan the next steps. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will likely be involved soon as well, because Ferrar had someone working with him—possibly his son, Meister said.

Ferrar will also be facing the full brunt of EPA’s new Renovation, Repair and Painting rule. Enforcement of the rule began Oct. 1, and fines range up to $35,000 a day.

For now, consultants and local officials believe that the immediate public health threat has passed.

“What happened initially was really bad,” Meister said. “Anyone who was in that area breathing that— it’s probably really bad.

“Now, it’s probably not so bad.”


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Air pollution control; Air quality; EPA; Health and safety; Lead; Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP); Regulations; Soda blasting

Comment from paul briggs, (11/1/2010, 8:05 AM)

when powering washing it may look like a smoke cloud, i doubt it was lead dust only water and surface dirt. maybe a couple of loose paint chips fell to the ground. a house peeling can have lead fall to the ground when it is windy and rainy now what is the epa going to do about that. makes you not even want to work any more. thanks for putting more people out of work.

Comment from john lienert, (11/1/2010, 8:42 AM)

$35,000.00 a day.....a guy who has his own son know he's rich like the govt. people suing him.....gimmee a break, $35,000.00 a day ?

Comment from ken berry, (11/1/2010, 8:52 AM)

It's companies like this that give our industry a bad name.To own a company named "---soda blast" and not be EPA lead certified or know the regulations is inexcusable. From the article - if there were piles of dust and debri I don't think they were power washing.If they were EPA's lead renovation rule addresses that.

Comment from Terry Miller, (11/1/2010, 9:17 AM)

This town is totally out of hand. Hiring a contractor who sits on their board, Not qualified and isn't licensed in lead abatement. What gives? This contractor needs to and will pay a lot more than the few thousand penalty. Wait till the lawsuits come in from health problems that may arise. Next time, hire a professional?

Comment from Jose Joven, (11/1/2010, 10:10 AM)

I agree he fluxed up big time. But how much of the "toxic cloud" was lead and how much soda? I'm sure the guy is sweating bullets right now. He'll probably have to file bankruptcy.

Comment from Lubomir Jancovic, (11/1/2010, 10:24 AM)

I was doing dry sandblasting on the building in Easton for 10 days. Peoples walking arround that building, kids play at games, but never don't breathing any dust. I used tarp on the soil. All mixed dust and blasted paint stay on the tarp. Was very easy to put all dirt to the container and give to the Waste company. I have my own technology and 20 years experience, how to blasting buildings in the town, but I never don't start a job if it was dangerous for the public or environment. Peoples what doing that job was criminal. He have to know what he is doing and how to doing, but if worker start doing that job, even he see what will public breathing, have to pay same penalty like contractor. Probably somebody want to do to much musik for less money.

Comment from jesse chasteen, (11/1/2010, 10:38 AM)

Old containment..extremely friable analytical sampling..apparently not even the cursory swab test...What was this guy thinking? Cofferdam/curtains/common sense..all cheaper than the spanking he is going to get.

Comment from Car F., (11/1/2010, 10:51 AM)

Certainly the contractor is to blame, but the Owner has an even a larger responsibility for allowing this situation to happen. I'm sure this contractor he was the cheapest bid and that is why he was awarded the contract. In my opinion, make the entity with the largest pocket pay, perhaps they will learn their lesson and next time execute their due diligence in a responsible manner instead of succumbing to the lowest bidder, which evidently was not qualified at all to do this job.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (11/1/2010, 11:02 AM)

Terry, if you read again - the code enforcement officer is on the board, not the contractor.

Comment from Tamara Rubin, (11/1/2010, 12:54 PM)

For contractors and others who want to learn more about childhood lead poisoning and the impact on a child and a family (and the reason for the EPA RRP Rule) please see my website - our children were poisoned by the work of a painting contractor when he used unsafe and illegal methods to remove the exterior paint of our 1914 home to prepare the home for painting. This was five years ago. He used power washing, dry scraping, and an open flame torch to remove the old lead paint. Our children inhaled the fumes and were immediately poisoned and became violently ill with acute lead poisoning symptoms (vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, etc.). Lead poisoning causes permanent brain damage and lifelong learning challenges and other health issues - especially to very young children (my boys were 8 months and 3 years old at the time they were poisoned). I applaud all contractors who are getting EPA RRP certified and I will support any efforts to have this regulation broadened to encompass non-residential buildings and structures as well. EPA RRP certified contractors are the ones who will get hired once the public awareness of this issue picks up momentum. Consumers will be happy to pay extra for this opportunity to be "green" and have lead-safe properties and healthy kids. I will also be posting lists of EPA RRP Certified contractors by state on my website soon (as a thank you for them getting certified and a secondary path for people to find a certified contractor on the web).

Comment from tim hady, (11/1/2010, 1:20 PM)

I reckon the town has some liability, they shoulda checked the contractor, the contractor shoulda known too, cleanup will be expensive, make him pay for it.

Comment from Tommy Johnson, (11/1/2010, 2:00 PM)

I agree, Tim, the contractor is at fault, but the town is to blame. They probably weren't gonna pay a pro to do it right, and I see this every time I get a call to work on pre-78 construction. People do not want to pay the extra costs that RRP laws are causing. This town is getting exactly what they deserve. Guarantee they had a bid by a legit contractor who would have done containment correctly, but decided to go with the lower bid.

Comment from Jim Peralta, (11/1/2010, 2:21 PM)

For the people out there that are murdering or molesting young children, the public demands they be caught, arrested and "put out of business." No arguments from anyone. But when contractors disturb potential lead based paint, and leave dust hazards in or around the worksite that ARE PROVEN to cause irreversable brain should be accepted because we don't want to put anyone out of business? That's crazy! That's as stupid as saying "I grew up with lead paint, and I'm okay?" Are you really? Some studies now correlate LBP poisoning with adult high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, Alzeimer's, dimencia, and even Parkinson's. Today, we know more than we knew 30 or 40 years ago. Joint replacemnts, heart valve replacement, even limb transplants. And yes, we have learned more about the hazards of LBP to our health. Putting people out of business for poisoning children? Absolutely. Because if it's YOUR child or YOUR grandchild that was brain'd be up in arms!!

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (11/1/2010, 2:26 PM)

I'm not seeing much the town did wrong - to be clear, the town is not the building owner and did not put out the contract. The board asked about "lead safety, containment and cleanup" and the owner assured the board his contractor would take care of everything.

Comment from Cassandra Gerhart, (11/1/2010, 2:59 PM)

This is a very serious matter. Lead poisoning can be very dangerous, and potentially fatal in some cases. It is very important that all contractors follow the EPA's Renovate, Repair & Painting rule, so they know all they need to know to keep lead contained. If you are a contractor and would like information about how to take the RRP course go to or call Northern Environmental Consultants at (906)337-0600. Many people are not taking this new law seriously and they need to be. In this particular case, there are most likely many people who have elevated blood-lead levels and are unaware of it. Lead does cause alot of health problems in both children and adults, but it affects children in a more severe way. Just think, it could be your child who got poisoned and now has learning disabilities. And for what? Just because the contractor was too lazy to take a few steps to prevent contaminating an entire town? It's very simple to contain lead-based paint, and it is inexcusable for ANY contractor not to. Check out the website or give NEC a call, and you will find out just how simple it is to get certified and learn the proper precautions to take when dealing with lead.

Comment from paul briggs, (11/1/2010, 4:50 PM)

i don't understand why the epa did not contact all contracting and painting companies and offer free classes. in times like this it is hard enough to put food on the table.

Comment from Jose Joven, (11/2/2010, 7:25 AM)

Getting certified isn't so simple. $200+ for a 1 day class, $300 to EPA for the certificate (which must be renewed every 3 years). Following RRP guidelines can add thousands of dollars to a project of this size. It's obvious why they ended up with the mess in Danville. EPA has opened a gigantic Pandoras' Box with this lead paint issue. And people are just now peering inside. I'm a landlord and a 30-year veteran of the painting trades (now retired). I don't like it, but I'll "play by the rules" and get certified to work on my own houses. At the same time, I doubt there will be enough money to hire the inspectors needed to catch all the fly-by-nights and jakelegs that have a truck, an airless and a couple brushes in their grip. What with tax cuts coming, where are they going to get the funds? Have any fines actually been levied in any case nationwide? And good luck trying to collect them, BTW. I see a more than a few bankruptcies on the horizon for small business owners.

Comment from ken berry, (11/2/2010, 4:57 PM)

It is my understanding the EPA is going to give local building inspectors authority to investigate and charge violators. Then they split the fines. With no building going on it will be like a game to them to see how much they can add to the county coffers. The only good thing about that is it weeds out the jacklegs.

Comment from Mike Adams, (11/4/2010, 10:02 AM)

Its always the "I did not know." EPA's lead safety has been in effect since April 22, 2010. There has been many PSA on this. Hope he at least was insured.

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