The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is investigating practices used to strip and recoat the Bonnet Carré Spillway, saying the project should have employed some method to capture the spillway’s old lead-containing vinyl paint.
DEQ has opened a complaint regarding the project, and “we’re going to check it out,” department spokesman Tim Beckstrom told PaintSquare News in an interview. Although no permit was required specifically for abrasive blast cleaning, he said, “They have to have some capturing method, like a shroud.”
Robbie Hunter, project manager for contractor Lamplighter Construction, told PaintSquare News that he had used no shroud or dust-suppression measures while stripping the vinyl coating from 152 bays along the spillway, because the dust and debris “was really not that bad.”
“We had lead samples pulled,” Hunter said. “It’s such a small trace that it’s not harmful. It’s like when you water down your orange juice. It just gets so dilute that it’s not even like orange juice anymore.”
The recycled-glass medium used for blasting was not harmful to wildlife because “it’s dust,” said Hunter. “It’s not like there’s chunks of glass floating around in the water.”
Hunter has said that the project required no containment or cleanup. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction on the project, agrees and has praised the progress of the work.
Air, Soil Sampling
Both the contractor and USACE said they had taken multiple soil and air samples before and during the project. They did not test nearby bodies of water, they said, because the spillway bays were emptied of water for the project.
“The only time there’s water in the spillway is when the river comes up,” Hunter said.
The 74-year-old spillway is a flood-control structure containing 359 20-foot-long bays. About once a year, authorities say, the bays are used to divert rising flood waters from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain and then into the Gulf of Mexico. The 1.5-mile-long spillway is the southernmost floodway in the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) system to bypass New Orleans.
The site is also a popular recreation area, drawing about 400,000 visitors each year for fishing, crawfishing, hunting, dog training, camping and wildlife watching. The site also includes ATV and motorcycle riding areas, boat launching sites, and a campground.
A detention pond near the spillway provides habitats for fish and wildlife. Water seeps through the spillway bays, even when they are closed, and ends up in and around the pond, said USACE project engineer Darren Siddons.
The spillway was last painted in the 1970s using a vinyl coating system that contained lead, authorities said. In the current phase of the project, Lamplighter Construction, of Baton Rouge, has been working since last August to strip the old coatings from about half of the bays and repaint with a vinyl system. The contract is valued at $634,128.
The project involves recoating the steel beams that carry cranes across the bays. Each bay has more than a dozen rail beams and cross members.
Because the project is using recycled-glass media, which contains no silica, the Corps of Engineers had determined that no containment was required. More than 600 tons of blast medium have been used on the project, which is nearly complete, authorities said.
Siddons said the Corps had not worked with the blast medium before and so had it reviewed by a staff Certified Industrial Hygienist. The CIH determined that containment was not needed for either the blast medium or the old coating.
“It’s just dust,” Siddons said. Testing showed only “traces” of lead in the old paint, he said, leaving the Corps “absolutely” confident that open-air blasting would pose no environmental or health threat.
“There was a minimal amount [but] safe enough for wildlife and humans,” Siddons said. “We did a whole bunch of airborne samples and soil samples. We determined it would be safe for kids playing in the area and wildlife.”
He said the spillway’s last coating project, in the 1970s, should have left the surface “100% clean” of lead paint, “but there’s no such thing as 100%.”
Indeed, Siddons said, the presence of lead traces prompted the Corps to inform potential bidders on the project that lead was part of the job, and lead is noted in the bid specs.
“It was very low, but it was enough that we had to tell all the bidders when they bid on the job that, ‘Hey, this is out there. It’s up to you whether you want to protect your employees.’”
The Corps’ bid specs for the project, issued Sept. 8, 2009, note that the work “includes removal of paint containing lead (PCL) during surface preparation.”
“NOTE: The existing paint to remove contains small concentrations of lead (~4500 ppm),” the specs say.
Under a section called “Unforeseen Hazardous Material,” the specs note that a previous painting project at the site in 2008-09 “identified small amounts of lead in the existing paint coating, in the amount of 4260 parts per million in the samples taken.”
The document adds: “Lead concentrations may not be uniform over the entire area to be painted, since the lead is a residue from incompletely-removed previous painting activities. The Contractor shall perform monitoring as per the requirements of Section 09 97 02 and ensure that the removal of paint containing lead (PCL) does not constitute a hazard to workers and/or the public.”
‘The Wind Kind of Took It Away’
Dust from the blast medium and the old paint was left in the bays, “because there were no big paint chips or anything,” said Siddons. “It became such fine particles that the wind kind of took it away.”
Hunter said that his firm “didn’t have to build any kind of scaffold, or contain anything, or dispose of anything. We had no cleanup whatsoever.”
Siddons said the medium has about a 10-foot blast range. “It’s not terrible,” he said, “but on windy days, it can be.”
Siddons said that he was not sure what state regulations applied to the job, but that he was “sure that someone in our district office checked with DEQ.” He added: “I’m sure they had to go through all the environmental checks. It wouldn’t make sense to go through a whole job without checks.”
He was unable to provide specifics, however, and DEQ said it had no record of the job.
“The department does have regulations that apply to abrasive blasting,” said Celena Cage, administrator of the enforcement division for DEQ’s Office of Environmental Compliance. “The regs are specific about what needs to be done.”
Louisiana Code Requirements
Louisiana Administrative Code (LAC), Air Regulations Chapter 13 Subchapter F, addresses emissions from abrasive blasting.
“The purpose of this Subchapter is to reduce particulate matter emissions from facilities that engage in abrasive blasting,” the code says. The regulations apply to “any material used in abrasive blasting,” although exemptions may be granted “as approved by the department on a case-by-case basis.”
The code requires facilities to either “fully enclose the item, or surround the structure, to be blasted” or to “prepare and implement a best management practices (BMP) plan as described in LAC 33:III.1331.”
The code details the BMP Plan at length. Among many requirements, the plan must include:
• A description of any nearby waters of the state that may be affected, their distances and directions from the facility, and how emissions to those waters will be prevented or minimized;
• A statement of the facility's procedures for preventing nuisances and/or adverse off-site impacts, including a description of any emission control equipment;
• Provisions for personnel training; and
• Detailed records of how spent material is handled, recycled, reused, or disposed of.
The Corps did not respond to a question about whether there was a BMP for the spillway project.
In addition, “Chapter 13, Emission Standards for Particulate Matter” spells out how emission of particulate matter is to be controlled in “any operation, process, or activity from which particulate matter is emitted…”
“All reasonable precautions shall be taken to prevent particulate matter from becoming airborne,” the code states. “These precautions shall include, but shall not be limited to” use of water or chemicals for dust suppression and dust collectors to contain emissions. “Adequate containment methods shall be employed during sandblasting or other similar operations,” the code says.
The blast medium used in the project is made by Novetas Solutions LLC, of Philadelphia. The company says its New Age Blast Medium is made from non-toxic, chemically inert, recycled bottle glass and is thus safe for use near and around water. Contaminants and waste by-products are stripped from the glass during manufacturing, according to Novetas.
Paul Mellon, of Novetas, said the product was allowed to hit the water after blasting in this and other projects. Novetas says the product has previously been used in a variety of bridge and ship blasting and cleaning projects.
The product appears on the Navy’s Qualified Products list. The Naval Environmental Health Center has also reviewed the product. NEHC says the most common hazards in working with the medium are skin irritation and high-velocity body injuries.