Detroit, Michigan, devastated by the recession-induced bankruptcy of its major industry, auto manufacture, is trying to decrease the size of some residential areas to better cope with public facilities like water, sewer and trash pickup feeling the continued strain of recession.
The areas in question, many of which are largely abandoned, reflect the city’s 33-percent unemployment rate. Unfortunately, the city’s attempt to demolish 10,000 abandoned homes to improve the character of these neighborhoods has met opposition in the form of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE), which says the plan violates state and federal laws regarding asbestos in abandoned buildings.
According to the DNRE, before the city can deconstruct more than the one house it has already razed, it is required to sample the structures for asbestos and then remove the asbestos by using a state-certified contractor.
City officials, who told local print media that they weren’t aware they were violating the law when they took the first house down, have since admitted that the cost of asbestos remediation among the 10,000 homes slated for demolition – all older and likely to contain some measure of the fibrous mineral – may prohibit completing the renovation.
Not only did the city raze one home without asbestos remediation, but it also failed to give the DNRE the mandatory 10 working days notice for a scheduled demolition, per Form EQP5661, according to DNRE spokesman Robert McCann.
The news came as a shock to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, whose plan to revive Detroit involves getting rid of those 10,000 older and usually abandoned homes. Since the warning by the DNRE, Detroit officials have reportedly scaled the project back to about 3,000 homes.
It will clearly be a case of too little too late; according to Mayor Bing, 78,000 Detroit-area homes (or 20 percent) are vacant, many so dilapidated they present a danger. With the city’s population projected to drop by 30 percent by 2020, the houses aren’t needed, but the city will be hard-pressed to find the funds to get rid of them, especially if asbestos determination and remediation has to be performed on all.
Asbestos, which was widely used during most of the 20th century in all manner of building products, from insulation to sheet flooring to the filler in some “popcorn” ceiling sprays, has been recognized as a health hazard since the mid-1970s – and as the only known cause of mesothelioma (at about the same time).
Mesothelioma is a cancer which arises in the mesothelial tissues surrounding the lungs, heart and digestive system. Occurring most commonly as pleural mesothelioma (in the lungs, in about 75 percent of cases), the disease is known as one of the “silent killer” diseases because it tends to remain dormant for decades – sometimes up to 50 years – before producing symptoms distinctive enough to send sufferers to a doctor.
Unfortunately, by the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, it has spread so widely throughout vital tissues and organs that doctors give patients about a year to live. This prognosis, poor as it is, is seldom extended by radical treatments like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, which are used not as cures but as palliative care to relieve difficulty breathing and reduce the pain commonly associated with the disease.
If Mayor Bing is ultimately successful in removing all 78,000 abandoned homes in his city, the land can be converted into farm acreage, as some have proposed, but not until asbestos remediation insures that every square foot of soil is free from the mineral currently implicated in the deaths of 2,500 Americans every year.