‘Exploded’ Paint Chips Plague ME Bridge


According to reports, the Maine Department of Transportation is examining the Westport Island-Wiscasset Bridge after a “catastrophic failure” of the paint on the bridge earlier this year.

Residents are now reporting that lead paint chips from the bridge are landing in the water underneath, causing concerns for the environment.

What Happened

Back in February, extreme sub-zero temperatures in the area, followed by a rapid warming, caused the paint to “explode” in pieces off the structure, MaineDOT said. After the Wiscasset Select Board was contacted, workers reportedly responded to investigate and to fix the navigation lights, which were not working.

The Wiscasset Newspaper reported that MDOT started the cleanup of the paint on the shore below the bridge, necessitating lane closures. They stopped when snow covered the ground.

However, crews noted that the paint was lead-based and was being treated as an environmental hazard by an environmental cleanup company, supervised by an MaineDOT hydrological engineer. Plans were made to return in the spring to address the paint chips that fell below the bridge.

The bridge was reportedly one of four that experienced the paint failure. Three bridges in the Portland area also experienced the explosion of paint off the steel, but MaineDOT was able to clean those sites the first week. 

The MaineDOT Engineer explained at the time that the paint and bridge steel were rapidly cooled as temperatures fell well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but there was no failure at that time. The failure came when there was a rapid increase in temperature later in the weekend.

Afterwards, when the steel expanded, the paint could not match the expansion rate of the steel and lost its ability to adhere, causing it to explode off the metal and fall in pieces onto the riverbanks and the river.

What Now

Residents have reported that the water has “tons of paint chips” in it, the Wiscasset Newspaper reports. Selectman Jeff Tarbox said MaineDOT continues to address the paint issue and planned to be back Tuesday (April 18).

Due to the lead paint, the resident also noted concern for the waterfowl.

Plans reportedly call for MaineDOT to work for at least 12 weeks this year, reducing traffic to one lane at those times, to address the paint chip issues.

According to the MaineDOT website, the Westport Island-Wiscasset Bridge is scheduled to be painted and undergo bridge wearing surface replacement work as part of the 2023-2025 Work Plan entries for Westport Island. The estimated funding for these projects are $2,000,000 and $1,600,000, respectively.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Cleanup; Coating failure; Coating Materials; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Failure analysis; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Lead; Lead; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Paint; Paint defects; Program/Project Management

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