Detroit Cracks Down on Demolitions Due to Asbestos Concerns

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

The State of Michigan is cracking down on demolitions contractors in Detroit after discovering numerous properties containing asbestos were mishandled.

Beginning in 2014, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan started an initiative to demolish 40,000 blighted buildings in neighborhoods. This effort has resulted in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) finding an overwhelming amount of asbestos violations. Over 100 properties were demolished before dry, cracked, and crumbling asbestos was abated.

That was just a sample of buildings tested by independent environmental inspectors, meaning the problem could be much larger. Usually fines were only held against the contractors, but now the City of Detroit, Detroit Land Bank Authority, and the Detroit Building Authority are also being held responsible.

City officials and MDEQ are working on an agreement through the Michigan attorney general’s office that will include the city following requirements of the federal Clean Air Act. More penalties will occur if further violations take place.

According to Corporate Counsel member Melvin Butch Hollowell, “Detroit is in complete agreement with the MDEQ in its commitment to achieving the highest level of compliance with environmental standards in our blight removal program. We look forward to our continued partnership with the state and will fully adopt its recommendations.”

Safe handling and removal of asbestos is very important, not only for demolition workers themselves but also for the people who live, work, or otherwise visit an establishment. In fact, Detroit recently initiated a program to teach inmates how to follow asbestos rules and regulations correctly, which will help them obtain jobs once they leave the correctional system.

More inspections have been implemented by the city. Independent environmental consultants must now inspect no less than 10% of demolitions each month and report the findings to the MDEQ.

These inspections began in February and found that out of 113 buildings, 12 that were supposedly abated still contained asbestos. When 11,500 structures have been torn down, this suggests the issue could be more widespread.

In addition to the MDEQ’s investigations, the FBI and inspector general of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Trouble Asset Recovery Program are looking into the $166.6 million demolition program.

Last December, a disciplinary policy was created for contractors who do not follow asbestos laws. Anyone found in violation would not be allowed to bid on new work for 30 days.

If a second violation occurred, a 90-day suspension would result. A third violation would mean a minimum yearlong suspension from bidding and termination of all current contracts and work. Any further violations would equate to being suspended up to 480 days, which happened to Brown Environmental Construction and Professional Asbestos Services Inc.