MassDOT Begins Bridge Lead Mitigation Efforts
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has reportedly begun mitigation efforts for toxic lead paint chips that have been falling from the Tobin Bridge in Boston.
According to a report from the Boston Herald, environmental advocates in Chelsea are now starting to see less paint chips fall to the ground after a temporary netting was installed. Vacuuming of the surrounding area has also begun.
In April, MassDOT issued a Lead Paint Chip Advisory informing the public that paint chips were observed to have started falling off of the Tobin Bridge. In the announcement, MassDOT stated that the paint chips were likely to contain lead, which can cause serious health problems, especially in children. The Department reportedly advised residents not to allow children to touch or play near any paint chips found and suggested that concerned parents get their children tested for lead exposure.
MassDOT said at the time that its contractor would begin vacuuming the paint chips and safely disposing of them, starting in parking lots and then moving to yards, sidewalks and other areas under the bridge.
According to MassDOT, the Tobin Bridge is over 75 years old, and the cycle of freezing and thawing over many years has heightened the issue of falling paint chips, causing steel exposures and bridge decay to happen at a faster rate.
Now, workers will reportedly continue vacuuming lead chips around and under the bridge in preparation for paint removal and repairs, which are expected to begin in spring of 2024. Additionally, netting will reportedly be added around the columns to catch any more paint chips that may fall off.
The removal, in addition to repairs, will reportedly cost $125 million and is projected to take around four years to complete. Officials have stated that no permanent lane closures would take place during the project, in which crews will work to remove old paint, complete repairs and repaint the steel.
According to MassDOT, lead paint is currently present in 30% of all steel structures in the U.S. and Massachusetts, being an industry standard up until the 1990s. The Tobin Bridge had reportedly been repainted numerous times over its lifespan, but some brittle lead-based coatings have remained on parts of the structure.
In June, MassDOT held a public meeting to hear residents’ concerns and give updates about the next steps being taken after lead paint chips reportedly began falling off of the Tobin Bridge into nearby yards in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
During the meeting, MassDOT provided details and received comments about the ongoing cleanup efforts and planned structural cleaning and painting, as well as steel and concrete repairs on the cantilever truss bridge between Boston and Chelsea.
The Chelsea Record reported that Rosseann Bongiovanni, executive director of Chelsea-based environmental and social justice advocacy group GreenRoots, emailed State Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver “about a week before the meeting” to outline concerns with the cleanup and outreach over the paint chips and request weekly updates from MassDOT and the highway department.
“We appreciate the work you and your team are putting forth to install a temporary underlayment to catch falling paint chips,” Bongiovanni wrote. “We understand this underlayment needs to be engineered, but … this underlayment has been installed in the past; and therefore, engineering should not take three months. These efforts need to be expedited as rapidly as possible.”
Bongiovanni also reportedly wrote the she was “deeply offended and concerned that GreenRoots was the organization that sounded the alarm” and that they have been “excluded from all direct communication from MassDOT on weekly updates, recent soil testing and findings, immediate and long term plans to resolve concerns and scheduling public meetings, deleading and structural repairs … The only updates we have received were in response to our formal letters and as a result of our prodding for a response.”
Latest Mitigation Efforts
New strategies are reportedly in place as MassDOT plans to take on a larger project that would include cleaning the 2-mile bridge and remove and replace its decades-old coatings.
The report states that the project, estimated to last up to four years and cost $127.9 million, could also repair the bridge’s over 75-year-old steel and concrete.
MassDOT’s Capital Programs Committee approved moving the project to the agency’s Board of Directors on Wednesday (Sept. 13). Additionally, GreenRoots is reportedly one of the groups providing insight to MassDOT on what residents want to see get done to further protect the community while the project is under construction.
“We are very appreciative of their commitment to ensuring that there’s mitigation from the lead paint chips that have been falling off,” GreenRoots’ interim co-deputy director Sara Aman told the Herald.
Aman added, however, that it should not have taken this long for the state to respond to the concerns of Chelsea residents.
“Moving forward,” Aman stated, “what we would really love is making sure that there’s always meaningful engagement and prioritization of environmental justice communities from the very beginning as opposed to letting toxic dumps and lead in our communities and addressing it afterwards.”
Mike O’Dowd, MassDOT’s Director of major projects, stated that there would be no permanent lane closures on the bridge during construction and no impacts to adjacent roadways. Coordination would reportedly also take place with nearby construction projects, such as the Washington Street Bridge replacement in Boston’s North End and ongoing Sumner Tunnel renovation.
“The public process has been critical in this just to ensure that DOT is taking all steps to ensure the health and safety of the residents of the city of Chelsea,” he said. “There will be a comprehensive public outreach.”