Bridge work in New Orleans polluting river

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Work continues on the I-20 bridge in Vicksburg.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/12/02]Samples taken from the Mississippi River near New Orleans show high levels of lead after repainting the Crescent City Connection, a difficulty not being experienced in a bridge painting project here.

Below New Orleans, the river is so contaminated it violates state and federal water standards, the Coast Guard said Tuesday.

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Federal officials took more than 200,000 gallons of water from the river last weekend for testing, Chief Petty Officer Patrick Cuty said. Of 10 tanks, three were in compliance, but seven contained more than the legal level of 50 parts lead per billion. They ranged from 70 to 260 parts of lead per billion, Cuty said.

While high, the numbers do not pose any threats to drinking water, authorities said, adding that there have been no contamination scares at local water plants.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality said the test results likely will prompt further investigation into just where the lead is coming from. It could be escaping from the repainting project, or it could originate from the natural flaking of lead-based paint from the big bridge in New Orleans.

The current $20 million project marks the Crescent City Connection’s first facelift since it was constructed in 1958. But the painting ceased after the Coast Guard discovered a diesel spill.

In Vicksburg, a similar $11 million project began last year on the Interstate 20 bridge. Texas Bridge, Inc. of Humble, Texas, began painting the 29-year-old bridge in earnest last month after nearly a year of preparation that included some structural repairs and sandblasting off the old paint which did contain lead, now recognized as a toxic if ingested, especially by youths.

Texas Bridge has taken precautionary measures to ensure the sandblasted material does not contaminate the river, company officials said. Several different tarpaulins have been used to catch debris from the sandblasting and monitoring units have been deployed around the work area to check for contamination.

The painting here is the first major work on the I-20 bridge since it opened in 1973. Coast Guard officials said that no testing has been done in Vicksburg.

The contract period here is three years, but Texas Bridge plans to finish in two. Traffic has been interrupted during some of the work, but no further roadway closures were expected this summer.

Cleanup work on the Crescent City Connection has also been halted by inspectors with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration because crews with Kazanas Industrial Maintenance violated several regulations involving equipment and construction apparatus, Cuty said.

Coast Guard officials also stopped cleanup work Monday on the bridge after they spotted workers not wearing proper uniforms and sweeping debris into the river.

Coast Guard officials said Kazanas might face civil or criminal penalties because of the diesel leak and lead contamination.

The Associated Press provided some of the information in this report.