Workers clean lead paint chips from the Queen Street overpass of Interstate 84 in Southington Courtesy / CT DOT

Chips of lead paint are falling off hundreds of bridges in Connecticut at such a rate that the state Department of Transportation has put out an alert to municipalities and intends to hire contractors to clean it up.

“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 on 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 was 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.”

Workers clean lead paint chips from a bridge taking Route 2 over Griswold Street in Glastonbury. Courtesy / CT DOT

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.”

This photograph was included in a CT Department of Transportation “safety alert” regarding lead paint chips falling from bridges. CT DOT

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.

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.