Lead has long been a double-edged sword. It’s enjoyed serious durability in industrial settings for millennia due to its malleability and resistance to corrosion. It’s also served modern industries well thanks to chemical properties that block radiation and make it great for use as a component of batteries.

But lead also is toxic. The most notorious modern usage of lead has been as a component of paint. And notorious though they have been, lead-based paints nonetheless proved vital to the protection of exposed metal infrastructure, including bridges. 

But when bridges need to be replaced or are due for major overhauls, dealing with lead becomes an immediate issue. 

Lead's unique properties

Despite centuries of anecdotal evidence and at least a few decades of published medical knowledge, bridge builders could not ignore how useful lead-based primers and paints have been on bridge construction projects. 

Using lead as a paint pigment has been attractive to bridge builders and other metal asset owners because it offered thick, tough coatings that did not crack under stress. It also is not compromised by drastic temperature changes because it expands and contracts in unison with the base metal it covered. 

Exposure to lead

Lead is harmful to humans when it reaches certain levels in the body. Over time, the symptoms of lead poisoning that emerge can include:

  • Difficulties with memory and concentration as well as mood disorders
  • Abdominal pain and headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Reduced sperm count or abnormal sperm in men
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in women

Risk of lead exposure in bridge abatement

As America’s infrastructure ages, bridge owners (which most often are governments) are confronted with the risks posed by demolishing, repairing or overhauling existing bridges once coated with lead-based primers and paints.

Often, these tasks include using torches to cut metal or welders to add pieces onto it. In either case, intense heat vaporizes lead, sending it airborne. From there, the lead can get into workers’ bodies and the surrounding environment.

Governments have necessarily been put on the hook for ensuring workers are kept safe on bridge abatement jobsites. Rules and regulations governing safe bridge abatement abound. 

But the presence of rules means nothing if contractors don’t follow them. Given the regulatory environment—and the consequences of not abiding by it—bridge owners must make sure needed work is completed by properly licensed and certified contractors.

Choosing a contractor for bridge abatement

The risks of lead poisoning are too many and too serious to ignore. Trust bridge abatement projects to the rigorously trained and qualified industrial coatings specialists at Thomas Industrial Coatings.

All our lead experts are SSPC C-3 certified for lead paint removal and complete the SSPC C-5 lead paint removal refresher course in addition to meeting additional regulatory requirements. The U.S. EPA recognizes us as a Lead-Safe Certified Firm. 

Safety is the number one objective at Thomas Industrial Coatings. Contact us to help you make a plan of action for your bridge abatement project today, or get more information by reading our asset owner's lead abatement handbook.

 

Managing lead in bridge abatement
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