Leigh Gannon stomped around the playground in Woodberry Tuesday, the television station towering behind her. Her mother, Carol Jarvis, checked Leigh’s shoe, looking at the sole, and found a tiny red paint chip.
“I’ve been making sure to check,” she said, carrying the 18-month-old. “We have a dog at home. So we don’t bring our shoes in the house anymore.”
Woodberry residents noticed the paint chips falling from the tower on Hooper Avenue about two weeks ago and are concerned they might contain lead. Megan Johnson, who also lives in the neighborhood, used an at-home test on a chip after seeing them scattered in the park. The result was positive.
Residents have been on high alert ever since, collecting samples and contacting state and city officials — and anyone who will respond — to come out for official testing. The state’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program is investigating and will visit the site on Wednesday.
Kerry Plackmeyer, the director of engineering for WBAL, did not know whether the current tower paint contains lead, according to an email from the Baltimore City Health Department, which was also contacted by residents. There is a plan to start painting the towers “shortly,” but Plackmeyer did not know how long it will take. WBAL-TV did not respond to a request for comment.
Owned by Baltimore-based Television Tower Corporation, the red candelabra tower soars over 1,300 feet on what is known as TV Hill, broadcasting the stations WJZ-TV, WBAL-TV and WMAR-TV since 1959. Television Tower Corp. could not be reached for comment.
“So you see all these tiny chips?” Johnson said Tuesday, pointing at the black, bouncy floor of the playground. “Yeah, they’re everywhere.”
Jarvis pulls the chip from her daughter’s shoe. She doesn’t save this one in the glass jar she is carrying around. At just the size of a breadcrumb, it wasn’t big enough like the others she collected on the street or found near her yard. She planned to test them for lead soon.
Residents noticed the chips falling from the tower around the same time they noticed maintenance being done on it, including power-washing and grinding off paint. Residents weren’t told any details about the work being done, Johnson said.
The chips trail the street from Johnson’s home to the playground, about 0.3 miles away. The red paint scraps stand out from the green grass, the foliage by the sewer, the walls of the brick church and light gray steps. The one Johnson tested for lead, using a 3M swab test, seems to have multiple layers of paint, she said.
“Even if there was no lead present, there’s so much of it,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge environmental hazard.”
There’s a community garden right by the playground, she said, where residents are welcomed to grow vegetables and herbs. She is worried about the lead getting into the soil.
According to the Baltimore City Health Department, construction before 1950 is at the highest risk for lead hazards. After finding that the tower was built in 1958, Johnson became concerned. The federal government didn’t ban lead paint until 1977.
Kate Haberer, another resident, said her fiance found paint scraps outside of his bike shop next to Union Collective across the Jones Falls Expressway and river. She saw a crew of people who were cleaning up the paint chips along Rockrose Avenue.
But they weren’t wearing uniforms and had no logos on their vehicles. Red flakes dusted their hair and paint stuck to their arms, she said. They were vacuuming the pavement, she said, and did not tell her who they worked for.
A Baltimore Banner reporter sought comment from one of the people vacuuming the streets, but they declined to talk.
“I’m really worried that no one will be held accountable for this,” Johnson said. “Even if the majority of these flakes don’t test positive for lead ... they’ve been just allowed to float down on the community.”