Southwest Side mom furious after city blasts lead paint on viaduct with water

City says Ald. Silvana Tabares ordered the power wash. Viaducts along Central Park between 63rd and 67th streets have high levels of toxic lead, testing shows.

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Alejandra Frausto has pleaded with city officials over the past three years to remove paint that contains high levels of lead at viaducts near her Southwest Side home.

Alejandra Frausto has pleaded with city officials over the past three years to remove paint that contains high levels of lead at viaducts near her Southwest Side home.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Over the last several years, Alejandra Frausto pleaded with city officials to address high levels of lead in paint covering viaducts stretching along Central Park Avenue in her Southwest Side neighborhood.

So she was shocked Tuesday to see city crews blasting water that sent paint chips flying into nearby grass, yards and sidewalks where schoolchildren pass through every day at 64th and Central Park.

Frausto can’t get answers as to why an area that was supposed to be designated for lead paint removal was being power-washed with no preparation for the potentially harmful spread of the brain-damaging toxic metal. She previously led two testing efforts that measured high lead levels.

“To say I’m upset is an understatement,” Frausto said. “This is what we were working very hard to try to avoid. I thought we built some sort of relationship to make sure something like this wouldn’t happen.”

The plan to remove the lead paint from viaducts along Central Park from 63rd to 67th streets seemed to be moving along in recent weeks, Frausto said. 

In late June, Frausto, a mother and former teacher at nearby Eberhart Elementary, met with Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) and representatives of the Chicago Department of Transportation and CSX Transportation, the railroad that owns the tracks that run along Central Park. A plan to address the lead issue seemed to be in the works, she said. 

On Wednesday, city transportation officials said Tabares ordered the power wash and repainting of the viaducts. CSX said that it has not removed any lead paint.

In June, the Transportation Department told the Sun-Times that it would work with CSX and Tabares to address the lead issue. 

The Sun-Times asked Tabares multiple times to explain the order to power-wash the viaduct at 64th Street but she declined to answer. Instead, she released a short statement.

“I am aware of the resident’s concerns,” Tabares said. “I have been working with CSX railroad and the Chicago Department of Transportation to address the condition of the viaducts. I plan to continue working with the residents, CDOT and CSX to rectify and ensure a solution.”

Meanwhile, “CSX has not conducted any work on the viaduct. We continue discussions with the alderwoman to finalize the response actions,” the railroad said in a statement.

Frausto’s husband, Daniel Morales-Doyle, said he asked the city transportation workers on Tuesday why they were spraying and whether they knew they were removing lead paint. 

“When I spoke with them, I could see white paint speckled on their foreheads,” Morales-Doyle said. “I asked if they knew there was lead in the paint. They had not been told.”

Morales-Doyle and Frausto called Tabares, who they said told them that “the order has been stopped.”

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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