Recently the city of Detroit issued a contractor to tear down an asbestos-laden apartment building at 31 Woodland Street. Violations were issued by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to both Detroit’s Land Bank and its Building Authority, as well as the contractor who carried this all out.
What did Detroit do wrong? Detroit issued a contractor to tear down this building. All that’s fine, but they failed to file the proper papers. Because of this, when the contractor tore down the building, he failed to abate the equivalent of three football fields of asbestos. The city has tried to play down the violations. But not filing the correct papers, in Hugh C. McDiarmid Jr.’s words, “decreases the transparency for what’s going on at a certain site” for the government, the public, and anyone else who’s interested. Hugh C. McDiarmid Jr. is from the state environmental agency. On top of the papers not being filed, the demolitioners demolished the building and hauled away the debris without first removing the asbestos. According to the law, asbestos does not have to be removed in parts of the building which are too unsafe for the workers to be in. There are exceptions to this rule, which will be mentioned soon. The contractor, Gayanga Co., was paid more than half a million dollars to do this job. The company insists that, because the building was too dangerous to remove asbestos in, they were given permission by the city to demolish the building without first demolishing the asbestos. The state found, when issuing the violations, that the “Notice of Intent to Demolish” was not updated to show that the asbestos would not be first abated. This may seem like a technicality, but it isn’t if it puts your health at risk. The city put a video of the demolition upon it’s Facebook page. The video was paid for by Gayanga Co. to promote themselves in an effort to get more of the minority preferred contracts. In its violation letters the state referred to this video. Multiple possible violations of laws were visible in the video, including emissions offsite and improper signage on the trucks taking the debris to a landfill. This wasn’t mentioned in the violation, though, because it wasn’t personally witnessed by the staff of the Air Quality Division (or AQD). Possible emissions offsite refers to potentially dangerous dust kicked up by the trucks taking debris offsite. Trucks carrying asbestos are required to have a sign warning about the hazardous material they are carrying. Becky Camargo who is the lawyer for Gayanga Co. said the city gave verbal instructions to Gayanga Co. to carry out the demolition because of the urgency of the matter. Other sources say that didn’t ever happen. The group which issued the violations was not informed about the change of plans. To inform them is required by law. Paperwork filed with the state and Gayanga Co. even says asbestos would be removed, which did not happen. Carmago says his client was unaware he had to fill out the paperwork. Currently if an engineer has proven that a building is unsafe to be in, signed authorization from the city is not required for a demolition to begin. But if the city had bothered to do everything needed, the state government wouldn’t be bothering to file violations against the city. Detroit’s problems may not end with the state. Michael Polsinelle who is the Detroit field office director of Housing and Urban Development said HUD is looking at the evidence given by Charlie LeDuff and the city to ascertain if any policies or federal regulations were disobeyed. The demolition was paid for with money from federal block grant for development from HUD. Already some of the funds have been frozen while HUD assesses the payments made through the city’s Motor City Match program. The goal of the program is to encourage small neighborhood business growth. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been alerted about these possible violations and is waiting for the paperwork to climb up the bureaucratic ladder. Along with this demolition, there have been questionable practices that have been and are being investigated. Tyron Clifton issued a statement about the 31 Woodland demolition. Clifton is the director of the Detroit Building Authority (DBA). The violation which was issued to the contractor had nothing to do with how the demolition itself was carried out, but the paperwork that wasn’t done. When the contractor began the demolition it had been determined that the asbestos at 31 Woodland wasn’t safe to abate. But the paperwork had not been changed. The contractor has since then acknowledged the mistake and corrected the paperwork. Detroit has the right to demolish a piece of property it owns. There are two circumstances in which the property does not need to be abated for asbestos first. The first is an emergency order. If there isn’t an emergency order, though, but the building has been deemed unsafe for workers to be in, the building does not need to be abated before it is demolished. In the case of 31 Woodland there was no emergency order but an engineer had said the building was unsafe for workers to go into. Nothing was done wrong during this demolition. Workers had the proper clothing on, water was being sprayed to keep potentially hazardous dust levels down, and trucks were properly lined and covered when leaving the site. The violation was issued to the contractor as a standard practice, and the contractor has appealed it. In December, Detroit entered into a court-sanctioned judgement order after it was discovered that, as far as asbestos goes, the public’s health was not being taken care of. The largest asbestos abatement contractor has been suspended from working in Detroit. This was because it was discovered that he had financial ties to the company which was supposed to monitor his work. Asbestos is a dangerous business. It causes mesothelioma, a deadly cancer, as well as other diseases. These diseases are mostly diseases of the lungs, caused by breathing in asbestos fibers. Removing asbestos can also be dangerous, because if not done properly it can release asbestos fibers into the air. That’s why you need someone specialized to remove asbestos. Call us today at (313) 437-4530 for information about asbestos, asbestos testing and removal.