Lead Paint Flakes Found in MD Neighborhoods

MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2022

Last week, residents in Woodberry, Maryland, voiced concerns after finding red paint flakes that seemed to have come from work being performed on the nearby television tower which gives the neighborhood its nickname, “TV Hill.” Using an at-home test kit, homeowner Megan Johnson found that the chips tested positive for lead, which the Maryland Department of the Environment confirmed just days later.

Tower work, which is being performed by Skyline Tower Painting, Inc. (Nebraska), has since been halted by the city as MDE continues to investigate.

Paint Flake Discovery

Originally reported by The Baltimore Brew, Johnson first noticed the red flakes outside her home, then later found more on a nearby playground on June 17. Some chips were as big as the palm of her hand. Other neighbors also noted the paint on their cars and lawns, sounding the alarm on social media.

At the time, it was unclear if workers were power washing or grinding off paint on the TV tower owned by Television Tower, Inc., a joint venture comprised of WJZ-TV, WBAL-TV and WMAR-TV. The tower stands over 1,000 feet tall and was completed in 1958.

“My heart stopped for so long I was speechless,” Johnson said. “I wondered, what if this was lead paint?”

Concerned, Johnson went to the drugstore and purchased an over-the-counter home test kit. According to reports, the chip tested positive for lead.

“Since then, I called everyone I could think of. Somebody needs to do a proper test, and if this is lead, put up signs so that people and children don’t touch it,” Johnson said. “Why wasn’t the neighborhood told about this beforehand?”

She then reported the issue to the city’s 311 call center, the State Department of Natural Resources, the Mayor’s office and her Council representative’s office. However, when an official called her back from the Housing Department’s code enforcement division in response to her 311 report, he stated they “couldn’t look at the tower because it was private property” and that he “had looked around and couldn’t see anything.”

“We have received this complaint and Maryland Department of the Environment’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is looking into it,” wrote Kaley Laleker, Director of Land and Materials Administration at MDE to a Woodberry resident. “We are also in contact with Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD), which received the same complaint.

“According to BCHD, they visited the stie and spoke with the company performing work on the towers. BCHD advised the company to discontinue power washing at this time until they can ensure debris/dust containment.”

BCHD spokesman Arinze Ifekauche confirmed to The Brew they had also received a complaint and “issued a stop work order telling them to stop the power washing until they can guarantee a way to contain the paint.” However, Ifekauche also noted that “apparently, though, they are almost done” with power washing.

Last Monday (June 20), Johnson was told that neighbors saw people in the playground using vacuum to sweep up the chips, in some cases picking up clumps of them with their hands. She said they refused to identify themselves.

Reporters found the four-man clean-up crew the next day, just below the WBAL-TV building, using trash bags and other equipment to pick up bits of paint. When asked if they was working for the TV station, one worker with an industrial vacuum said “no,” but declined to give his name or the name of the company they worked for. The reporter noted that he had red paint flecks in his beard.

Tim Tunison, News Director at WBAL-TV, said the staff knew about the issue, but declined to further discuss it. Resident Tracey Brown, who has lived in Woodbury since 1996, said that the TV tower had previously caused issues, including falling icicles and an evacuation two years ago due to the possible dangers from repair work.

Alice Volpitta from Blue Water Baltimore also alerted MDE upon hearing about the lead paint concern, worried about possible contamination in the nearby Jones Falls waterway.

“It’s been badly abused in the past year,” she said. “First, it was asbestos and construction debris falling into the stream from the demolition of the old Schenuit rubber factory on the south side of the 41st Street bridge. Then it was illegal chlorine and acid discharges that caused a fish kill at the Fleischmann’s vinegar factory near Cold Spring Lane.

“And now possibly toxic paint chips are raining down into the community garden, playgrounds, sidewalks, yards and, of course, the Jones Falls.”

State Inspection, What’s Next

On June 22, MDE inspectors “performed testing on the chips using a field device, which detected the presence of lead in the paint,” according to Mark Shaffer, Communications Director. Samples were taken from the area surrounding the tower that had been undergoing power washing ahead of repainting.

Skyline Tower Painting was ordered by the city to stop work and told to sample the paint chips, as well as the existing paint on the tower, to determine whether it is considered hazardous waste. Any collected material must be placed “into a container and closed for proper handling,” including the HEPA filters used inside the vacuums, Shaffer said.

MDE noted that the company “has vacuumed paint debris from some of the surrounding area, including a daycare center, and is working with the homeowners’ association to remove paint chips from the remaining areas affected.”

Additionally, the Department of Housing and Community Development said that the company should have obtained a permit to complete the work, but one has not been found.

“A construction permit should be pulled to remove paint from the tower, and all local, state, and federal regulations related to paint removal should be followed,” said HCD spokesman Kevin Nash. “We have not located a permit for work at 3723 Malden Avenue.”

The housing department “has general construction safety practices and there are also state and federal regulations on paint removal.” There are additional requirements from the Department of Public Works’ if water is involved.

Currently, MDE is collecting additional information from the company “regarding the scope of work for the project,” as well as preparing “enforcement actions to address and correct violations related to hazardous waste generation, lead abatement accreditation, and lead safe work practices,” Shaffer said. The agency is putting together a “formal report” for its investigation.

The affected location radius has also widened, with reported paint flakes north, east and southwest of the tower. Other locations include Loyola University’s athletic field and a Giant food parking lot, as well as other residential neighborhoods.

“They’ve been doing this work for weeks,” Johnson said of the news. “How much has it affected our health already? How much has leached into the soil? What about the community garden? Is there anything that can be done to remediate this?”

Neither Skyline Tower Painting or Television Tower responded to requests for comment from PaintSquare Daily News.


Tagged categories: Environmental Controls; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Industrial Contractors; Inspection; Lead; Lead; Lead test kits; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Paint; Power washing; Program/Project Management; Tower; Transmission Towers

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