Chicago Lead Painted Viaducts Water Blasted


Viaducts along Central Park in Chicago have reportedly been water blasted by city crews just months after reports of testing found that the paint contains lead levels hundreds of times higher than considered safe.

The rail tracks are owned by CSX Transportation and run along Central Park Avenue from 63rd to 67th streets. Children reportedly pass underneath the structure daily.

Lead Paint Testing

Three years ago, Alejandra Frausto and her sixth-grade science students at the nearby Eberhart Elementary School conducted testing and found that the paint used in the viaducts contained “brain-damaging” lead levels hundreds of times higher than what would be considered safe for house paint.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t find anything — that it would all be an exercise to see that we are safe,” Frausto said.

Following testing, the students presented their findings to Ald. Silvana Tabares in October 2019, who then wrote to Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s Public Health Commissioner, about “the decay and terrible condition of the viaducts.”

“The lead tests conducted by the students show that they present an ever-constant threat to local residents and students,” Tabares told Arwady. “I’m asking if these same students can show you their findings and possible solutions to ensure that the issue with lead and these viaducts be put to an end.”

While the students never met with Arwady, they were told by a city health official that testing would be conducted by the city’s department of transportation. However, The Chicago Sun-Times reported that it appeared that city testing was never completed.

Frausto, who is now a doctoral student at Northwestern University, took testing a step further last year with extensive sampling and providing the results again to Tabares. The latest report found a dozen samples of paint that “well exceed” a limit of 90 parts per million, the federal standard for safe house paint.

One sample reportedly measured lead concentration at almost 13,000 parts per million.

A health department spokesman said that, despite the high levels of lead, “Walking under an outdoor viaduct is unlikely to be a significant source of lead exposure for school-aged children.”

“It’s definitely not healthy,” said Dr. Helen Binns, Director of the Lead Evaluation Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, who reviewed Frausto’s report at the request of the Sun-Times. “There are people walking through these areas. It’s on the wheels of the strollers, it’s on your shoes, and you bring it into your home.”

The lead levels “are very high and should be abated,” said Dr. Steven Rothschild, who chairs the Department of Family Medicine at Rush University Medical Center. “Although lead in water has gotten a lot of attention locally and nationally lately, lead paint remains the major environmental source of lead leading to problems.”

Viaduct Blasting

However, as plans to remove the lead paint from the structure seemed to be moving along in recent weeks, at the end of last month Frausto saw city crews blasting water under the viaducts. Paint chips reportedly flew into nearby grass, yards and sidewalks.

“To say I’m upset is an understatement,” Frausto said. “This is what we were working very hard to try to avoid. I thought we built some sort of relationship to make sure something like this wouldn’t happen.”

City transportation officials said that Tabares ordered the power washing and repainting of the viaducts. CSX also said that it has not removed any lead paint.

Frausto’s husband, Daniel Morales-Doyle, said he asked the city transportation workers on Tuesday why they were spraying and whether they knew they were removing lead paint.

“When I spoke with them, I could see white paint speckled on their foreheads,” Morales-Doyle said. “I asked if they knew there was lead in the paint. They had not been told.”

Tabares released a short statement to The Sun-Times, noting that she is aware of the resident’s concerns and is working with CSX railroad and CDOT to address the condition of the viaducts. “I plan to continue working with the residents, CDOT and CSX to rectify and ensure a solution,” she continued.

The railroad company added that “CSX has not conducted any work on the viaduct. We continue discussions with the alderwoman to finalize the response actions.”

According to reports, Tabares has said that “the order has been stopped.”


Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Department of Transportation (DOT); Environmental Controls; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lead; Lead; Lead paint abatement; NA; North America; Rail; Water blasting

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