The Erie Canal stretches from Niagara Falls off Lake Erie about 363 miles (584.2 km) east to the Hudson River, outside Albany, New York. Operating since 1825, the canal was originally used to move bulk goods across the state — much quicker than on the back of a horse! Today, it’s mostly used for commercial boats and tourism. But as it snakes across the state, it offers another new role: a crossing challenge.
For a major gas and electric utility company in upstate New York, adding a new carbon steel pipe to the three existing lines required crossing the canal. “We’ve done work for the gas company for a few years, and they were adding a new pipeline to their distribution system,” said Mike John, Jr., vice president and manager of operations at MJ Painting Contractor Corp.
The client had the bridge inspected, which resulted in new cables, clamps, and supports for the pipes. And since the client would have to set up access to the entire area to do that, “they said, ‘let’s take care of the painting on this so we don’t have to touch it again for another 15 years or so,’” John explained.
Access Erie Canal
Access included Safespan platforms, which covered the length and width of the bridge for “ample working room,” according to John. In addition to having inspectors come out to verify that the platform wasn’t swaying or dipping throughout the project, the six crew members from MJ Painting also had safety training for fall rescue. In case of a fall, there were also rescue boats below with life rings. Working over the water, after all, meant not only fall protection for the workers’ safety but also safety for any passersby below.
To get to the platform, encapsulated with visqueen and super adhesive tape, the MJ Painting crew used 16-foot (4.9 m) ladders.
Once up top, they got to prepping. But this wasn’t your typical start. The three original pipes had lead-based coatings on them, which John suggests means that they were originally installed in the ’60s. Regardless, the lead changed the entire strategy for the crew.
Although each crew member worked a full eight-hour day, each person was only permitted inside the containment during prep — wielding the nozzle, vacuuming spent abrasives, or otherwise — for only two hours total daily. “We thought what a better way to protect them by saying, ‘let’s limit how much sand blasting we do each day so that they don’t ingest lead and to minimize the lead hazard,’” John said.
They had three people at a time on the nozzles, and each crew member was sure to wear Tyvek suits and full-face respirators by 3M. “We also had ventilation inside that containment to one, keep the dust down for safety, and two, to help remove as much contamination as possible throughout the entire day,” said John. On top of that, they had clean and dirty rooms to disrobe, shower, and change clothes to return home. According to John, that was “to remove any lead dust that was in their skin or on their hair.”
At about 200 feet (61.0 m) across the canal and four pipes to prep and coat, the crew had a total of 2,000 square feet (185.8 m2) to complete. It was a pleasant surprise when they encountered solid steel after blasting. “After we sandblasted some of it, they came up and did a visual inspection and found out that the pipe was in very good condition — there was no pitting in the pipe and the integrity of the pipe was in really good shape,” John explained.
Removing the old coatings and a 1.5- to 2.5-mil (38.1–63.5 microns) profile were achieved using a 6-ton (5.4 metric tons) blast pot and 750 CMF (21.2 m3/min.) After Cooler from Marco, Black Beauty coal abrasives, and 150 feet (45.7 m) of hose. To confirm the correct prep profile, they used Testex tape, but because of the lead, they couldn’t use typical shovels and buckets to remove the spent abrasives. “We used an industrial vacuum, and that vacuum would suck up all the ‘sand’ and dump it automatically in a Dumpster, and that Dumpster had to be completely contained so any dust went in it we dumped would not become airborne for the guys on site or the people walking down the street,” John explained.
They blasted and primed half the length of a pipe at a time, then circled back to finish the other two layers of coatings at the end of each week. Talk about an active jobsite!
In addition to the coatings crew’s activities, there were three active pipes on the bridge, four pipes in the ground (heavy equipment beware!), pedestrians walking nearby, and those boats down below. “We had to stop work when they’d pass underneath for safety, so nothing would fall over,” John explained. The weather also threw them for a loop: hot surfaces from the heat followed by cold temperatures that set in at the end of the late summertime project made for sweating pipes.
Using Binks pressure pots and a three-layer system from Sherwin-Williams, the crew was finally able to complete the coatings. They sprayed the second layer of the Macropoxy 646 followed by a full layer of Hi Solids Polyurethane, and they stripe coated all welds and bolts. The total dry film thickness (DFT) was 12–14 mils (304.8–355.6 microns), confirmed with wet film thickness (WFT) gages during the application and DFT gages from DeFelsko at the end. And they confirmed their safety practices by using a third-party industrial hygienic on site from M. Holvey Industrial Hygienists.
“The industrial hygienist on site was very helpful,” John said. “When she said ‘hey do this to layer up here or tape up your wrists over your gloves to prevent coming in contact with this,’ overall, they just took it very seriously and they got it done. Without being safe we couldn’t do this kind of work and we have to be safe every day.”
At the end of the job, all crew members were tested for lead. Not only did everyone test negative at the end of the project, but some of the crew members who had shown traces before the project started showed that their levels actually went down!
According to John, that’s due to the crew’s professionalism and diligence. “They all performed very well and they all followed the PPE guidelines, the lead awareness policy, being clean, and keeping things organized,” he said. There were no incidents or accidents, and the job came out under budget and on schedule.
“Hats off to them for being safe enough and contain themselves with PPE; to have no traces of lead in their blood is phenomenal. That was my biggest concern was the lead, and they all did a great job wearing their PPE,” John reiterated.
“I think that we hit them over the head, so to speak, to say, ‘look, you have to follow these practices or you’re not going to be a part of this job,’ and they took it very seriously,” John said.