The New York City Council passed, by a unanimous vote, to prohibit demolition activities from starting or continuing in buildings undergoing asbestos abatement procedures. Council members felt that the asbestos fibers, often torn loose from concrete or other materials during demolition projects, posed a significant health risk to work crews and residents within the vicinity of any such project. The bill, gaining the approval of all forty-five members, was one of twelve passed during the most recent Council session, many of which dealt with how best to handle the various construction and demolition projects throughout the city.
The measure deals with issues that fire investigators came across after two firefighters perished when they answered a fire alarm in a condemned structure in 2007. The skyscraper was going through both demolition and asbestos abatement at the same time. Investigators afterwards stated that performing both processes simultaneously created a dangerous situation for the firefighters.
The demolition processes created a higher risk of fire in the building, while the bags and other equipment used to contain the asbestos-laced materials blocked off the firefighters’ escape routes. The firefighters, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino, died after they were unable to get needed water from a malfunctioning standpipe inside the former Deutsche Bank building n Lower Manhattan.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn spoke out about the new measure. She said both workers and the general public are safer when demolition and asbestos abatement projects are carried out separately. She also said that the measure should make a firefighter’s job, which is often fraught with danger in the best of circumstances, somewhat safer. The recent legislation would stop contractors from conducting both asbestos abatement work and demolition on a building at the same time without the approval of the New York City Fire Department, the Department of Buildings, and the Department of Environmental Protection.
With the requirements needed for this added layer of verification and inspection, the Council also passed a bill requiring better communications between the various agencies in charge of such inspections. The idea would be to cut through much of the bureaucratic red tape and allow for sharing of information among the different offices that would oversee these new rules.
Another piece of legislation the council passed was to create a new program to grant firms the required permits for asbestos abatement and disposal. The new program would also call for contractors to take extra precautions when handling and removing asbestos-containing materials. Companies who deal with asbestos removal projects would need to pass stiff tests before city building code inspectors would grant such permits.
A related measure would forbid the use of any flammable material, including matches and cigarette lighters, on the floor of a building undergoing asbestos remediation. The new law would also prohibit smoking on those floors, as well as the presence of any tobacco-related products. Numerous research studies have shown that smokers who are exposed to asbestos are nearly one thousand times more likely to contract malignant mesothelioma, a disease that affects the fluid lining of the lungs, as well as other forms of lung cancer.