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State Rep Alleges Lead Dust at Bridge Site

Thursday, October 6, 2016

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A Maine legislator is calling for the cancellation of contracts with a bridge-painting contractor after an independent soil study allegedly showed evidence that lead paint dust was not being fully contained on a job.

Rep. Ben Chipman (D-Portland) held a press conference Tuesday (Oct. 4), according to local reports, calling on the Maine Department of Transportation to cancel contracts with Southern Road & Bridge, which is responsible for blasting and repainting a number of bridges over I-295 in that state.

Deering Ave. bridge over I-295
© 2016 Google

Rep. Ben Chipman says tests on soil samples near the Deering Avenue Bridge over I-295 (pictured in November 2015, before work was done) showed lead levels between 1,900 and 32,000 parts per million.

Chipman says that he noticed paint dust around the Deering Avenue Bridge site in Portland in August, and was alerted by a labor group to past lead abatement-related violations issued against Southern Road & Bridge, which is headquartered in Tarpon Springs, FL.

The Deering Avenue Bridge work was part of a larger job blasting and painting four bridges on and over I-295 in greater Portland, which began in July. According to the Portland Press Herald, the job is a $1.9 million contract.

Independent Soil Test

Chipman says he and former State Rep. Troy Jackson, who is running for Maine Senate, according to the Press Herald, went to the Deering Avenue Bridge site together. Jackson then gathered soil samples, which he sent to an independent lab for testing. The results, he says, showed lead levels between 1,900 and 32,000 parts per million, far above the residential limit of 1,200 and the playground limit of 400 parts per million.

MaineDOT bridge project map

The Deering Avenue Bridge work was part of a larger job blasting and painting four bridges on and over I-295 in greater Portland, which began in July.

The Deering Avenue Bridge lies near Deering Oaks Park, in the Oakdale neighborhood of Portland.

“There’s a ballfield here, there is a middle school, there is Deering Oaks park and residential areas on the other side of the bridge,” Chipman said at the press conference, according to the Press Herald. “This is a high-traffic area for joggers, runners, bikers, pedestrians. People come here to work and play and live. And this is not the kind of conditions or pollution that anybody should be subjected to here in Portland or anywhere here in the state.”

Past Lead Issues

In 2015, Southern Road & Bridge was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for numerous lead- and arsenic-related violations on a job in Wrentham, MA. Those violations originally amounted to $10,710, but were reduced to $2,142 as part of an informal settlement, according to OSHA online records. That case is designated as “pending abatement of violations” as of Wednesday (Oct. 5).

The company’s only other OSHA citation on record came from the same job site, and cited “general requirements” as the nature of the violation.

Southern Road & Bridge lists past clients throughout the country on its website, including the states of Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia. A call to the company for comment was not returned as of Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 5).

MaineDOT Response

At the time of the press conference, according to WCSH-TV, MaineDOT had not seen the soil test results; later in the day, officials reportedly gained access to the report. A request for further comment was not returned as of deadline for this article.

MaineDOT issued a statement Tuesday shortly after Chipman’s press conference, which read in part: “Because of our high standards for safety and for the environment, we know there is no risk to the public as a result of our work. The highly certified company performing the bridge painting is taking every step to contain any toxic materials. A visual inspection of the ground within the project area is performed, followed by soil samples taken to ensure no hazardous materials are left behind as a result of our work.”


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Bridges; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Protection; Government; Government contracts; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; Lead; Lead paint abatement; North America

Comment from M. Halliwell, (10/6/2016, 11:18 AM)

A few questions: 1) How old is the Deering Avenue Bridge? 2) Has it been previously repainted? 3) If so, how many times and what years? 4) Were soil samples collected before Southern Road & Bridge started their work 5) Did Chipman and Jackson see and document a containment failure at that site? 6) Was the "paint dust" from blasting activities or paint overspray? Don't get me wrong here, I agree that hazardous materials like lead should be handled properly, but I'm going to play "devil's advocate" for a moment and wonder how much of this is politically motivated (one person involved is running for office and some labour groups aren't above "tipping someone off" if they have a gripe with a contractor), how much of the lead at that location is historical and how much might be related to Southern's work.

Comment from Jeffrey Morgan, (10/6/2016, 4:54 PM)

Mr. Halliwell is right on the money. Are Mr. Jackson or Chipman certified soil contaminate testers? They've already tainted the investigation through their actions. This smells of a political investigation, not a scientific one. Florida contractor, Maine politicos, sounds fishy.

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