Detroit demolition plan halted due to asbestos concerns

Representatives from the City of Detroit, Michigan, meant well, but nearly put lives in danger recently with plans to demolish around 3,000 dilapidated homes and other buildings in a blighted area. The project, whose ultimate goal was to remove 10,000 dangerous abandoned buildings over the next four years and eliminate risks like collapse, fire and disease, was featured in the local newspaper, the Detroit Free Press. As it turned out, someone from the state Department of Natural Resources and Environment was reading, and the story raised a red flag. After a quick investigation, DNRE spokesman Robert McCann told the Free Press the agency discovered the City had not completed required asbestos inspections on the properties scheduled for demolition. The City also had not notified the state – which is required by law – of the planned demolition. The planned project was halted April 5, and City officials met with DNRE representatives to learn what they should do. According to the Free Press, representatives from the City said they were unaware they were violating any federal regulations, and said the City has not had a history of inspecting buildings for the presence of asbestos before demolition under past administrations. The current Mayor is Dave Bing. Some demolition occurred before DNRE officials were able to call a halt; however, subsequent asbestos testing did not find any asbestos present. The project is under the direction of the City’s Buildings and Safety Engineering Department. The houses planned for demolition are located in southwest Detroit. The City still plans to demolish 3,000 structures by the end of this year, and 10,000 structures during the next four years. Federal regulations require that businesses or individuals planning demolition first test the structure for the presence of asbestos, remove any asbestos that is found using approved abatement procedures to ensure the safety of workers and the public, and provide a 10-day notice to the DNRE before beginning demolition. Violations could incur fines of up to $27,500 per day, and jail time. It was not noted in the Free Press story if the City is in danger of being prosecuted for its violations. However, public interest in the story did raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure, which can result in mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the chest and lungs, the lining of the abdomen, or the lining of the heart. As a result of reader interest, the newspaper published a helpful Q&A about asbestos exposure the following day.

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