May 17, 2022

Charlie Doodle

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Advocates: NY state should be careful about lead paint dust during I-81 construction

3 min read

The NYS Department of Transportation should take every precaution to prevent lead paint dust from further poisoning children as they rebuild the aging Interstate 81 viaduct in Syracuse, a group of advocates said Wednesday.

Six advocates for health, safety and social justice raised questions about the project at a news conference Wednesday near Dr. King Elementary School, just a block away from the highway.

Transportation officials are proposing a $2 billion project that would remove the elevated portion of the highway that runs right next to Dr. King Elementary School. Instead, highway traffic would be rerouted around the city onto a larger Interstate 481. A portion of Interstate 690 in Syracuse would also be rebuilt.

The state transportation department has released a draft environmental impact statement that says there would be a “limited quantity” of lead paint dust released during the project.

Advocates have already successfully pushed the state to reconsider their plan to put a traffic roundabout in that neighborhood. Now, they are raising questions about the possibility of pollution caused by construction.

Children in Syracuse already suffer from lead paint poisoning in their homes. One in five children in the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods has elevated lead levels in their blood, according to the county health department.

The elevated highways were built in the 1950s and 60s. Lead was banned from paint in the 1970s, but it was still used on bridges as an anti-corrosive, advocates said.

They called on the state and federal governments to investigate the amount of lead paint on the elevated highway and to ensure it does not escape into the air during construction. They asked transportation officials to come up with a lead exposure control plan that protects the public as well as workers. The state’s current environmental impact statement appears to addresses workers only, they said.

“Children in Syracuse are already at risk due to housing conditions perpetuated by irresponsible landlords,” said Jeanette Zoeckler, director of preventative services the Occupational Health Clinical Center. “These children are already suffering an environmental injustice. We are raising the question here: What is being done to address overlapping vulnerabilities?”

Oceanna Fair and Darlene Medley, parents and leaders in the group Families for Lead Freedom Now, asked whether construction would be done outside of school hours.

“No matter what season they choose for this demolition, will lead dust be kept away from the perimeter of our school?” Fair said. “We know that lead dust can be picked up on your shoes and tracked into a house.”

The New York State Department of Transportation has published a draft environmental impact statement that does address lead paint.

It says limited quantities of lead based paint dust would be generated by the project since the goal of the project is to remove the bridge structures rather than repaint them. Structures would be removed with the majority of the paint intact and sent out for metals recycling, the report says.

Advocates say that is not enough information. They ask, for example, how much lead paint does the state consider a limited quantity? And would lead paint dust be created in the process of removing the structures?

Joe Morrissey, a DOT spokesman, said the state is still in the environmental review process and measures to mitigate the impact of construction will be determined as the process moves forward. The contractor will be required to prepare a lead exposure plan that includes the health of the community as well as the workers.

Read more about I-81 and lead paint in Syracuse:

Small chats around kitchen tables focus on lead poisoning in high-risk Syracuse neighborhoods

NY DOT hears ‘loud and clear’ almost no one wants I-81 roundabout near school

Save 81: Powerful forces masked as grassroots movement fight to keep interstate through Syracuse

9 changes to massive I-81 plan, plus 3 things we still don’t know

Construction could begin next year but when would hulking highway come down

See the entire I-81 plan with maps, data and more

Contact Michelle Breidenbach | [email protected] | 315-470-3186.

https://www.syracuse.com/state/2021/12/advocates-ny-state-should-be-careful-about-lead-paint-dust-during-i-81-construction.html

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