The state of Kentucky has asked CSX Transportation Inc. to come up with a plan to address future flaking of rusty, lead-based paint off the Barren River Bridge in Bowling Green.
About 75% of the original paint has flaked off into the river and onto the soil since at least 2006, creating public concerns and a protracted dispute between the state and the company.
‘A Level of Contamination’
The issue was on the back burner until the spring, when a local businessman, David Garvin, who had personally restored nearby bridges, alerted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s Superfund Branch that paint chips were littering the ground and river.
Soil testing then found lead concentrations exceeding Kentucky’s Preliminary Remediation Goal (PRG) of 400 mg/kg for residential use. The site is zoned for industrial use.
“We identified that there was work to be done,” said Shawn Cecil, director of Kentucky’s Superfund Branch, which is overseeing the cleanup. “We determined a level of contamination.”
Tons of Soil Removed
In July, CSX submitted an Interim Action Work Plan to clean up the site. It followed through in the fall, removing several hundred cubic yards of soil and paint chips—several hundred tons in all, officials said—from the site.
In November, the company presented an update to environmental officials. Although officials are still awaiting the written report to review CSX’s data, one part of the presentation drew an immediate response: the fate of the remaining bridge paint.
CSX had no plan to address the rest of the paint, contending that it presents little risk to human health and the environment. Officials aren’t so sure, said Cecil.
“A risk to the environment is a risk to the environment,” he said. “We’re asking them to look harder at potential solutions.”
The state is not insisting that the bridge be painted—just that CSX stop the flaking.
“Our role here is not necessarily to propose what the long-term solution is,” said Cecil. “If they were to propose some sort of a routine cleaning, that might be something that we could consider.”
Other recommendations await CSX’s formal report, which includes results from extensive sampling of soil, water and sediment as well as the company’s risk assessment.
Cecil said CSX had been responsive to the problem thus far. “They’ve responded favorably to everything we’ve asked of them,” he said.
CSX officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday (Dec. 15). Garvin, who began the charge, also could not be reached, but he has echoed the state’s concerns.
‘This Bridge Needs to Be Cleaned Now’
"I just want the bridge to be cleaned and the lead pollution to stop," Garvin said in an e-mail to The Bowling Green Daily News. "I want CSX to stop their arrogant stonewalling immediately. This bridge needs to be cleaned now. We must not go through the winter with the accelerated flaking."
Garvin said he walked under the bridge two weeks ago and noticed more flakes of paint than ever on the ground, the newspaper reported.
"Freezing and thawing is accelerating the flaking of lead from the bridge," he told the paper. "I presume that the steel in the bridge expands and contracts with temperature. Also, when water gets under the clinging flakes of lead paint and freezes, it causes more of the aged lead paint to come off."
He added: "Lead has been proven to be toxic and dangerous. When I cleaned and painted the Old Richardsville Road and College Street bridges, the EPA monitored and required me to prevent any lead paint from entering the environment.
“We netted the entire bridges when we sandblasted off the old paint. They told me that I could not even spill a coffee cup of the lead residue into the river. Why should this same standard not apply to CSX?"