TOXIC TOBIN BRIDGE: ‘IT’S UNBELIEVABLE TO US ALL’
Falling lead paint chips worry Chelsea residents
Lab testing has shown toxic amounts of lead contained in paint chips apparently stripped from the Tobin Bridge by weather and time which are raining down onto the homes and streets of Chelsea.
“With all of the work that has been done on the Tobin Bridge over the last number of years, we all believed that the bridge was deleaded,” Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots, told the Herald. “To learn that the lead is still falling off the bridge 45 years after lead was banned from paint, it’s unbelievable to us all that this is a major problem now in 2023.”
Residents in Chelsea’s Ward Eight grew concerned recently when they started finding paint chips in their yards and on the sidewalks surrounding the Tobin Bridge.
“I see it every time I walk out my door. I’ve lived here for four plus years and the ‘allergy’ I have only hits when I’m at home. I thought it was the trees. Never thought about the bridge,” Garron DeRamus, the owner of Wildcat Bike Repair, told the Herald.
GreenRoots, along with the city, had paint chips collected for sampling by an independent lab, WHDH TV first reported.
“In all five samples, lead levels are very high, and given the near certainty of direct exposure for residents there is an imminent and substantial danger to human health,” Bongiovanni wrote in a letter signed by the Conservation Law Foundation, Chelsea’s interim City Manager and a Boston University professor of environmental health sent to MassDOT’s Secretary Gina Fiandaca.
“Residents have observed thousands of paint chips along the streets, yards and open spaces underneath the Tobin Bridge from the Fourth Street offramp to Lower Broadway where the Mystic River and Chelsea Creek meet,” the former Chelsea City Council president wrote.
Unfortunately for the city and its residents, lead is not a new problem in Chelsea, Bongiovanni said. In the 1970s lead was found in the Mystic River and in neighborhoods near the bridge. As a result, some of the city’s children were monitored for years as the subjects of a study on the effects of lead exposure during development.
Use of lead in household paints would be banned in 1978. No such ban was put in place for the use of lead in industrial applications, however.
“Residents of Chelsea have lived with countless environmental harms for decades, and this is yet another shameful example. Exposure to the lead paint blowing off the To
bin Bridge has already contributed to serious and permanent health issues in the community,” Caitlin Peale Sloan of CLF Massachusetts said.
While the problem may be old, Bongiovanni said, the response by Gov. Maura Healey’s administration has been a breath of fresh air compared to the past.
MassDOT staff conducted an inspection of the areas around the bridge on Monday and Fiandaca was on the ground Tuesday, she said. The agency indicated in a reply letter to Bongiovanni that they would fast-track a planned $100 million capital project for fall bidding. That project would see some of the steel structure replaced and all of the portions over the city neighborhoods repainted.
“MassDOT takes the health and safety of its residents seriously and is taking steps to inspect the Tobin Bridge paint and take immediate action to protect the community and the environment. We are committed to keeping the public informed of our progress,” a MassDOT spokesperson told the Herald.
Bongiovanni said she hopes to have a community meeting about cleanup and remediation for those affected by the lead-based paint chips.
“This has been happening for four and five decades now. At what point does Chelsea stop being the dumping ground for the state? At what point do environmental justice communities actually get prioritized?” she said. “It’s 2023, let’s restart the clock here and not let any of this happen ever again.”
According to information provided by the Federal Highway Administration, “it is estimated that 35%-40% of steel structures are coated with lead-based paint, including 90,000 bridges. Of all bridges repainted in 19851989, 80% of them had lead coatings.”
The Maurice J. Tobin Memorial Bridge spans the Mystic River just west of where it and the Chelsea Creek join before flowing south past Boston’s North
The span, originally constructed in the late 40s and then called the Mystic River Bridge, is an over 2-mile-long double-decker that carries six lanes of traffic between the cities of Chelsea and Boston.