State sues stations, contractor over lead paint chips falling from TV Hill tower

Published 5/5/2023 6:24 p.m. EDT, Updated 5/8/2023 12:03 p.m. EDT

Carol Jarvis holds a jar with piece of red paint. She has been collecting them to test for lead.

Almost a year after Woodberry residents raised alarms over possible lead paint chips falling from the red television tower that stands high above their neighborhood, the Maryland Department of the Environment has filed a lawsuit against two corporations for violating state law: Television Tower Inc., the owner of the tower on Baltimore’s Television Hill, and Skyline Tower Painting Inc.

The state seeks an injunction requiring the companies to stabilize the tower, continue to recover paint chips from a half-mile radius and “use properly accredited workers” to complete work on the tower, according to a joint release from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Office of the Attorney General.

The state is also seeking reimbursement for soil testing, according to the 38-page complaint, and financial penalties up to $25,000 per day for lead accreditation, lead abatement performance and hazardous waste violations, and up to $10,000 per day for solid waste, open dumping and nuisance creation violations.

Woodberry residents raised concerns last year over the possibility of lead contamination in the soil and water after an at-home test on the chips came back positive. Inspectors from the department’s solid waste and lead poisoning prevention programs also tested the chips in the area known as TV Hill. It came back positive on June 2022.

According to the complaint, Skyline Tower Painting Inc. was contracted to remove paint from the iconic candelabra tower, which has broadcast WJZ-TV, WBAL-TV and WMAR-TV since 1959. The state alleges the project “was carried out with little-to-no containment methods.”

“We cannot have industrial contractors risk public health in large swaths of Maryland communities by conducting unsafe lead abatement projects by untrained, unaccredited workers. In this case, lead literally rained down on thousands of people, including children,” Attorney General Anthony Brown said in a statement. “Lead paint disproportionately affects children, especially those living in overburdened communities, and its harmful effects can be lifelong.”

A 2019 inspection report identified peeling paint throughout the 1,000-foot tower.

Skyline Tower Painting Inc., which is not accredited in Maryland, had been working on the grounds since May 2022 to do paint prepping, including scraping, sanding and wire brushing. The complaint says the company did not notify the state environmental department of its activities.

Residents reported seeing the workers power-washing the tower and grinding paint off of it. The complaint says hydroblasting and high winds may have spread paint chips as far as half a mile away from the tower, covering a child day care center, a local playground and park, and a college athletic field.

Swallowing or breathing lead can poison children and potentially impact development, according to Maryland’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

At least 84 residences have reported paint chips in their properties, according to the complaint.

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The state environmental department collected soil samples to assess lead contamination earlier this year. The complete report is pending.

The three TV stations that own the tower and Skyline Tower Painting Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.