This photograph was included in a state Department of Transportation “safety alert” regarding lead paint chips falling from bridges across the state.
Workers clean lead paint chips that recently fell from a bridge in Glastonbury. / Photo, Connecticut Department of Transportation

By Dave Altimari / CTMirror.org

Chips of lead paint are falling off hundreds of bridges across Connecticut at such a rate the state Department of Transportation has issued an alert to municipalities.

The state also said it plans to hire contractors to clean up the toxic debris.

“Bridge structures statewide have been experiencing a sudden, unexpected release of lead-based paint chips, which is believed to be related to the recent extreme swings in temperature,” said the DOT alert first issued to its own employees Feb. 17.

The DOT’s bridge maintenance unit spent last weekend inspecting more than 2,100 bridges across the state and determined that lead paint is cracking and falling off hundreds of them.

“This discovery is not unique to Connecticut,” said DOT spokesman Josh Morgan. “Although paint chips on the ground pose little danger, members of the public should not touch any debris seen under bridges or on roadways. The flaking paint also does not pose a safety hazard for those crossing these structures.”

After that discovery, Mary Baker, the principal engineer for bridge safety and evaluation at the DOT, sent an alert to municipalities, warning them that they should inspect their local bridges.

“Last week, the Department of Transportation experienced a sudden failure of the paint coating on many steel bridges,” Baker said. “In response to the coating failures, the Department’s Environmental Compliance unit began remediation efforts to address the paint chips that had fallen.”

Baker’s memo to municipal officials said “paint chips are suspected of containing lead, [and] the remediation efforts are initially focused on areas that are accessible to the public,” such as those near bike paths and walking trails.

“Cleanup efforts are already in progress, and a larger statewide mitigation plan is in development,” the alert said. “In the coming weeks, the department intends to utilize contractors to remove failed paint that still remains on the bridge beams.”  

The alert directs employees to take a series of steps if they encounter fallen paint chips, including warnings not to handle them and to avoid walking through debris on the ground because of the risk of tracking the contamination elsewhere.

It wasn’t clear Thursday night how many Connecticut bridges were painted with lead paint or for how long that paint type has been used.