PG&E plans to repaint transmission towers coated with lead paint

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PG&E is undertaking a campaign to repaint about 6,000 electric transmission towers coated with lead-based paint, including 65 of the tall structures in Sonoma County.

Letters will be sent this week to owners of the 32 properties where the towers are located months ahead of the work that’s expected to begin in the fall, said Nicole Liebelt, a PG&E spokeswoman.

The letters will be followed by phone calls and personal contact by PG&E representatives.

While use of lead paint is still allowed on commercial structures, Liebelt said PG&E is voluntarily undertaking the repainting program — expected to cost $300 million to $400 million — out of concern for pubic health. PG&E no longer uses lead paint on its towers, Liebelt said.

Consumer use of lead-based paint was banned by the federal government in 1978 after lead from paint was determined to be “one of the most common causes of lead poisoning,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

PG&E inspected the more than 46,000 transmission towers that carry power throughout the utility’s territory from Bakersfield to Eureka, finding about 6,000 coated with lead paint that was, in many cases, peeling.

Scraping and repainting the steel towers, which stand 80 to 100 feet high, will start in April in Fresno County, Liebelt said. Each tower will be repainted with non-lead acrylic paint, with towers near schools, homes or parks receiving top priority.

There are 1,083 transmission towers in Sonoma County, including 65 covered with lead paint. Those towers are on 32 privately owned parcels and four on city or county land.

Fifty-one towers are in rural areas and the rest are in cities, with nine in Santa Rosa, three in Larkfield and one each in Fulton and Petaluma.

Eight towers — one on rural land and the rest in Santa Rosa — will have priority because they are near homes or parks, Liebelt said.

None of the towers is near a school. There are no towers with lead paint in Mendocino or Lake counties.

On towers with peeling lead paint, workers will use special tools and vacuums to capture scrapings and place plastic tarps on the ground to collect debris, she said. Some transmission towers have been in place since the early 1900s and may be older than the communities around them, Liebelt said.

An exact date for the start of work in Sonoma County has yet to be determined, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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