MD Residents Sue Over Lead Paint Chips

MONDAY, JUNE 12, 2023

Property owners in Woodberry, Baltimore, have filed a class-action lawsuit against local television stations after lead paint chips began to fall from one of their broadcast towers. The “iconic” red candelabra tower is currently under the operation of Television Tower Inc., an entity formed by WJZ-TV, WBAL-TV and WMAR-TV.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has also sued Television Tower Inc., as well as Skyline Tower Painting Inc., a company contracted last year to work on the tower, stating that the two companies have violated state law.

Case Background

Last year, residents in Woodberry, Maryland, voiced concerns after finding red paint flakes that seemed to have come from work 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.

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.

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

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.”

Inspectors from the state environmental department also reportedly conducted tests using a field device that found some positive results for lead in the paint back in June 2022.

An initial cleanup plan was reportedly developed by the company operating the tower, and a list of demands was also issued by the community association, requesting further outreach and transparency. However, Jessica Meyer, president of the Woodberry Community Association, said that many community residents feel like the effort has been “inadequate.”

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.”

Latest Lawsuits

Now, residents hope that the 29-page class-action suit will result in a more thorough remediation plan. The suit alleges that the companies should have known that hydro-blasting the tower could send lead paint chips into the air.

The lawsuit is reportedly seeking class representation for property owners in a 4,000-foot radius, which, according to the complaint, may amount to 300 property owners.

The plaintiffs are also reportedly seeking $75,000 each in compensatory damages for “diminution of property value, loss of property appreciation, and lead paint chip and lead dust abatement.”

The MDE is also seeking financial penalties that would reportedly amount to $25,000 per day for lead accreditation, lead abatement performance and hazardous waste violations.

Additionally, the department is asking for up to $10,000 a day for solid waste, open dumping and nuisance creation violations, as well as reimbursement for soil testing.

State regulators have also reportedly requested an injunction that would require the companies to stabilize the tower, continue to recover paint chips from a half-mile radius and complete work on the tower, which stands over Woodberry and some neighboring communities in Northwest Baltimore.

The community association has reportedly kept up with cleanup efforts, posting progress updates on their website. Despite cleanup efforts, Meyer says that it still feels lie there’s no end in sight.

“It’s very difficult to make any meaningful progress when the chips are continuing to come off of the tower,” she said. “There’s just a general state of being kind of on alert.”

Representatives from the television station have reportedly not responded to requests for comment.


Tagged categories: Environmental Controls; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Inspection; Lawsuits; Lead; Lead paint abatement; NA; North America; Paint; Power washing; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Tower

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