Officials with the city of Detroit were ready last week to launch a program that would demolish thousands of vacant buildings in order to restore residential areas from the urban blight that has affected the area for the past several years. As part of a stimulus package from the federal government, the project was scheduled to knock down more than three thousand abandoned residential buildings by the end of the year and a total of ten thousand older structures by 2014.
Almost as quickly as the project started, directors of the state’s bureau of environmental affairs called a halt to the demolitions when they found that the city had not filed the proper paperwork certifying the status of possible asbestos contaminations. Robert McCann, a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, stated that the city did not put in a request for inspectors to determine if the buildings targeted for demolition were free of asbestos.
Mr. McCann said that the Detroit demolition projects were shut down after only one house was leveled. He also said that the state was “more than willing” to help the city to certify the asbestos status of the targeted structures to insure that the demolition efforts did not spread the toxic asbestos dust throughout the affected sites. He reiterated that both the city and the state had to take measures to insure that any demolition work carried out would be done so with a strict regard to insuring safe conditions for workers, residents and the environment.
According to Mr. McCann, federal regulations require that entities engaged in the demolition of older structures that may contain asbestos must file paperwork certifying either that the building is asbestos-free or that they have taken the proper steps to remove the asbestos-laced materials safely and that workers have taken precautions to protect themselves from asbestos exposure. The law also mandates a ten-day waiting period from the time federal environmental officials receive the paperwork and the time that demolition efforts can start.
As part of his election platform, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing pledged to remove much of the urban blight that has affected the city for decades. He promised voters that the city would level as many as three thousand abandoned homes during his first year in office and up to ten thousand before his term expires in December 2013. The project received $20 million in funding from a federal economic stimulus package passed in late 2009. Neither the city nor the state has released any estimates on the time and expense involved in asbestos inspections, disposal and remediation involved in cleaning up the targeted sites.
Thomas Vincent, an onsite inspector with the state environmental bureau, ordered the demolition stopped and told workers to hose down the debris to keep the asbestos dust from spreading. Asbestos dust can affect the lung tissue and become embedded in the pleural mesothelium, the protective layer around the lungs. When this embedding occurs, patients can develop malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer.
Sources: UPI, Detroit News, PublicBroadcasting.net