Woodberry property owners have filed a class-action lawsuit against the television stations that operate the iconic red candelabra tower in Television Hill and a contractor after work on the tower rained lead paint chips down on the community nearly a year ago.

The Maryland Department of the Environment last week sued Television Tower Inc. — the entity formed by WJZ-TV, WBAL-TV and WMAR-TV to operate the tower — and Nebraska-based Skyline Tower Painting Inc., accusing the companies of violating state law.

State regulators are asking for an injunction requiring the companies to stabilize the tower, continue to recover paint chips from a half-mile radius and complete work on the tower, which stands high over Woodberry and neighboring communities in Northwest Baltimore.

The 29-page class-action suit alleges that the two companies should have known that hydro-blasting the tower could send lead paint chips into the air.

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The lawsuit seeks class representation for all property owners located within a 4,000-foot radius of the tower, which may amount to 300 property owners, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs — who described the corporations’ conduct as negligent and suitable for liability in the suit — are seeking $75,000 each in compensatory damages for “diminution of property value, loss of property appreciation, and lead paint chip and lead dust abatement.”

In its suit, the Maryland Department of the Environment is seeking 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, plus reimbursement for soil testing.

Skyline Tower Painting Inc., was contracted to remove paint from the iconic candelabra tower last year, and the state alleges the project “was carried out with little-to-no containment methods.” The company is not accredited in Maryland, according to the state’s complaint.

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Woodberry residents raised concerns last year over the possibility of lead contamination in the soil and water after chips that came off the tower tested positive with an at-home kit. Inspectors from the state environmental department also tested the chips in the area known as TV Hill; some of them came back positive for lead in June 2022.

“Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that is poisonous, especially to children,” said William “Billy” Murphy, one of the attorneys representing the Woodberry community, in a press release. “That the TV tower owners knew it contained lead paint yet hired an unaccredited contractor to power blast that paint off hundreds of feet in the air over folks’ homes is unconscionable. The Defendants in this case should have known better.”

The company operating the tower developed the initial cleanup plan, said Jessica Meyer, president of the Woodberry Community Association. After the city asked for work on the tower to cease, the community association issued a list of demands asking for further outreach and transparency. But Meyer said many community residents feel like the effort has been inadequate and hope the lawsuit will result in a more thorough remediation plan.

The community association has been keeping track of cleanup efforts and posting updates on its website. Almost a year after Woodberry residents noticed the red paint chips on their streets, yards and the neighborhood playground, it still feels like there’s no end in sight, Meyer said.

“It’s very difficult difficult to make any meaningful progress when the chips are continuing to come off of the tower,” she said.

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“There’s just a general state of being kind of on alert,” she added.

Representatives from the television stations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

clara.longo@thebaltimorebanner.com

Clara Longo de Freitas is a neighborhood reporter covering East Baltimore communities. Before joining the Banner, she interned at The Baltimore Sun as an emerging news and community reporter. She also has design and illustration experience with several news organizations, including The Hill and NPR. 

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