Brooklyn Residents Rally for Lead Paint Action
According to reports, lead paint chips falling off of elevated subway tracks in Brooklyn, New York, have tested “substantially above” federal legal concentration limits. Despite this, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has failed to address these issues, locals said.
Earlier this week, residents, elected officials and union painters held a rally outside the Myrtle Avenue-Broadway station in Bushwick, asking the MTA to remove the toxins and repaint the infrastructure along the J, M and Z lines.
“We deserve to have a safe community where we can walk without being exposed to a high level of toxic material. We're here today to ask and demand the MTA take action to expedite the resources,” New York City Councilmember Sandy Nurse said.
Safety, Health Concerns
In 2020, business owner Salvatore Polizzi first tested the paint chipping off the tracks by sending in samples from the areas. The chips, he said, came back with a dangerously high concentration of lead—about 63,000 parts per million (ppm), substantially above federal legal limits of 5,000 ppm considered hazardous to human health and requiring abatement. Polizzi then shared these findings with local elected officials and the MTA.
A Brooklyn community is concerned about lead paint falling from overhead subways. https://t.co/zFJQSRObX1— CBS New York (@CBSNewYork) May 3, 2023
“Unfortunately, not much has come since that day in 2020,” Polizzi said at a press conference. “The same material is on these tracks, we are in the same position we were then. The MTA has dragged its feet, it continues to tell us that work will be underway.”
Reports indicate that the paint is chipping throughout the line. Nurse noted that when lead paint chips and falls to the ground, it gets ground down as it’s walked and driven over, with dust residue potentially making its way into local homes and businesses.
“The paint that is falling off of these tracks falls off as big chunks, and then gets broken down and pulverized into little micro bits, as cars, trucks, and people walk on them,” said Nurse.
“So these smaller and smaller bits can turn into…dust [that] gets kicked up by street sweepers, by people walking back and forth, and it can get tracked into our homes.”
The problem dates back to 2017, when legislation was spurred by complaints from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9, which in April of that year analyzed paint chips that had fallen from an elevated station on the 7 train line in Jackson Heights, Queens.
The union reported that the paint debris had lead content of 244,000 parts per million, about 48 times the limit that would require abatement according to federal law.
Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law that required the MTA and the New York City Transit Authority to launch a lead investigation. The authorities would work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health to study the lead content of paint on aboveground stations in the city, look at abatement that has been done during station renovations in the past, and determine if the agencies have been in compliance with state and federal laws regarding lead abatement.
According to amNY, MTA spokesperson Ray Raimundi did not provide an answer when asked when the structure was last repainted. A contract for painting the M line is expected to be awarded sometime this year.
“The safety of customers and communities served by the MTA is a top priority. This commitment is reflected in the MTA’s current capital program that includes 26.5 miles of elevated structural repairs and painting, more than six times the amount in the prior plan,” said Raimundi. “The structural maintenance program follows appropriate safety protocols that will not be compromised.”
The 26.5 miles of elevated line reportedly represents nearly half of the subway system’s overhead trackage, and approximately $1.3 billion is earmarked for the repairs in the agency’s 2020-24 capital plan. However, this funding is not necessarily for lead abatement, but to protect the structures from steel corrosion that could lead to a potential collapse.
“We have 60 miles of elevated steel structures to look after, and painting is the only way you protect that steel from erosion,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber, at the agency’s monthly board meeting last week.
“Not painting as we all know will compromise the safety and reliability of the structure, which ultimately leads to emergency repairs, which are expensive, and to service disruptions. We want to avoid all that by being proactive.”