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PG&E Embarks on Lead Paint-Removal Project

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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Pacific Gas & Electric, the country’s largest utility, is addressing the problem of lead paint on transmission towers, with a project that will see thousands of towers repainted.

PG&E’s Electric Tower Maintenance Program began with an inspection of all 46,000 towers in its Northern California service area, the company says. Of those, 6,000 were identified as having some degree of lead paint. Because many of those towers were peeling, the utility says it decided to scrape and coat all of the towers that were positive for lead.

Transmission towers in California
Hydrogen Iodide, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pacific Gas & Electric is scraping lead paint from 6,000 transmission towers and recoating the towers with acrylic paint.

The first phase of the work, the utility says, will concentrate on towers near homes, schools and parks. It will take about 12-18 months with trained contractors and PG&E employees working about three to five days on each tower. Fresno County is first on the docket, according to the East Bay Times.

PG&E says the project on the whole will last three to five years.

Hand Tool Removal

According to PG&E spokesperson Nicole Liebelt, workers will use hand tools to remove any peeling or flaking lead-based coatings, using attached HEPA vacuums to minimize dust. Plastic tarps will be laid down to contain any falling paint debris. Work areas will be cleaned and inspected at the end of each day, and coating removal work will be stopped in the event of high winds.

Lead paint that is well-adhered will not be removed, but will be encapsulated by the new coat of acrylic.

PG&E says it is undertaking the lead paint removal project because the utility “cares about the health and safety of our customers, employees and the environment.”

Transmission  tower

Towers will be stripped with hand tools, and any remaining lead paint will be encapsulated by the new acrylic coat. This series shows a PG&E tower during stripping, and after recoating.

In December 2015, customers in Saranap, California, complained about lead paint peeling and flaking from transmission towers owned by PG&E. The utility said at the time that it was working to better understand lead content on towers.

Lead and Human Health

Lead paint was outlawed for use in residential and child-occupied buildings in the United States in 1978, but continued to be used in some industrial applications years later.

Lead, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, can lead to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth and other problems for children who are exposed to it. Exposure in adults can lead to issues including high blood pressure, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.

About PG&E

PG&E serves the northern two-thirds of the state of California. It is considered to be the largest utility in the country by sales, according to 2014 numbers. PG&E has the largest privately owned portfolio of hydroelectric facilities in the nation, and owns one nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, in Avila Beach, California.

The company owns 141,215 circuit miles of electric distribution lines and 18,616 circuit miles of interconnected transmission lines, and serves 5.4 million electric customers.


Tagged categories: Acrylic; Health & Safety; Lead; Lead; Lead paint abatement; North America; Protective Coatings; Transmission Towers

Comment from Catherine Brooks of Eco-Strip, (3/15/2017, 11:30 AM)

Thank goodness PG &E takes lead paint removal safety seriously. California is the first state to win a lawsuit against the major paint manufacturers for culpability for lead poisoning from buildings. Let's hope they follow the same precautions as the program continues to other states.

Comment from Robert Bullard, (3/17/2017, 11:45 AM)

Metallize...and never look back.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/20/2017, 9:06 AM)

You can't apply metallizing over a hand-tool cleaned surface and expect it to be durable.

Comment from Steve Brown, (3/21/2017, 4:15 AM)

I don't know the specific details of these towers, but I assume like in the UK that the substrate is (aged) galvanised steel section. So the discussion is regarding maintaining a duplex coating system (in this case the organic coating). Design life for towers here is ~120 years, which when one considers some of the hostile environments (and relatively thin steel sections) is quite a challenge, but feasible if one has a properly maintained duplex system.

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