Utility Addresses Lead Paint Concerns


Residents of a California town are sounding an alarm about the dangers of flaking lead-based paint in their neighborhood. However, unlike so many others regarding lead-based paint, those concerns are not about paint in their homes.

Paint has been found to be flaking off power-line towers and falling into residents’ properties, according to a Contra Costa Times report on Sunday (Dec. 6).

Their concerns center on health risks the fallen paint chips could pose to children and at-risk adults in the area.

Peeling, Flaking Paint

Citizens of Saranap, CA, near Walnut Creek, are questioning the paint job on the transmission towers, owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), that run through their town.

One resident expressed concern over a 60-foot tower on his property that showed paint peeling from its base. While paint is not flaking off the whole tower, sections higher up appear not to be fully or evenly covered.

The paper noted that several towers show red paint visible through the silver topcoat.

They took their concerns to PG&E, who is said to have a program in place to better understand the lead content on the towers, as well as to address the issue when it comes to the safety of their workers and the area residents.

Addressing the Issue

Tamar Sarkissian, a spokeswoman for PG&E, told the paper that while many of their towers are galvanized and uncoated, others are painted. If those towers were painted prior to 1978, she said, they may be coated with paint that contains lead.

She indicated that the company does check the transmission towers for lead prior to work, if peeling paint is identified or if a customer notifies them, but, she noted, notifications from property owners are “very rare.”

“If we find that a tower does have lead paint and may be causing a release of lead paint dust…we also test the soil around it,” Sarkissian added.

When testing reveals lead contamination, the utility takes the necessary steps to protect “the health and safety of our customers, employees and the environment," she said.

One resident who spoke to the paper confirmed that PG&E did remove and replace contaminated soil at the base of a nearby tower, although he hasn’t been able to attain the same treatment for a tower on his property.

© iStock.com / IDymax

According to PG&E, while many of their towers (not shown) are galvanized and uncoated, others are painted. If painted prior to 1978, they may be coated with a lead-based paint.

Sarkissian said that when paint is “intact and well bonded to the structures” it is not considered a hazard.

PG&E did not respond to a query for additional information on the coatings and repainting process.

Risks of Lead in Paint, Soil

Although the use of lead-based paints in housing were prohibited after 1978, paint and dust from nearly 40 years ago still can be found in more than 30 million homes, according to the EPA.

While major sources of lead exposure to children include lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in deteriorating buildings, children can also be exposed to lead from additional sources including contaminated drinking water, take-home exposures from a workplace, and lead in soil, according to officials.

Soil, yards and playgrounds can become contaminated when exterior lead-based paint from structures or buildings flakes or peels and gets into the soil.

Lead in soil can be ingested as a result of hand-to-mouth activity that is common for young children and from eating vegetables that may have taken up lead from soil in the garden. Lead in soil may also be inhaled if re-suspended in the air, or tracked into a home and then spreading the contamination, the EPA says.

Even low levels of lead found in blood can cause behavior and learning problems; lower IQ and hyperactivity; slowed growth; hearing problems; anemia; and in rare cases, seizures; coma; and even death.

Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

In addition to children, a pregnant woman’s exposure to lead is of concern because it can lead to serious effects for both her and her developing baby, including reduced growth and premature birth.

Congress has passed a number of laws related to lead that address lead in paint, dust and soil; lead in the air; lead in water; and disposal of lead wastes.

Editor's note: content was altered to clarify the ban of lead paint use in housing.


Tagged categories: Coating failure; Flaking; Galvanized steel; Health & Safety; Lead; North America; Peeling; Utilities

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