There was hope of some relief for Detroit citizens as word came from on high that thousands of the city's feral houses would be demolished as part of an effort to rid the decaying city of eyesores, safety hazards, and places of crime.
Many of Detroit's vacant buildings, estimated to number into the tens of thousands, slowly decayed after decades of abandonment without maintenance--most of them simply vacated when tax liabilities and maintenance needs began to dwarf property values. As crime rose and city services declined, fed up residents left the Motor City without so much as a forwarding address.
Now the discarded buildings serve as squatters' residences, drug houses, and as the targets of arsonists. Their cadavers have been picked clean by metal scavengers and relic hounds, the grounds left covered in broken glass, rotten wood, trash, and betrayed memories. And asbestos.
And therein lies the problem for Mayor Dave Bing and his aggressive attempt to remove evidence of blight. Bing's plan of action was stalled after a total of one house had been razed by Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and Environment after concerns that the structures being destroyed had not been screened for asbestos and that a required ten day notice before demolition had not been issued.
After learning about the demolition program on Thursday, a state inspector arrived in southwest Detroit to find a city contractor razing a house on the 1100 block of Lewerenz without first inspecting for asbestos or giving the required 10-day demolition notice, state officials said.Anyone who has been around an asbestos removal operation knows that the costs of such can become astronomical. The asbestos (or asbestos containing materials) must be stripped from the structure in a separate operation and disposed of as a hazardous waste before the rest of the property can be razed.
City officials said they have since tested the house for asbestos through a private contractor and found none.
But before the city restarts demolition, it must test for asbestos in each structure and remove any that is found -- a process that could take months depending on what is found, state and city officials said. Then the city must give the state a 10-day advance notice on each structure before sending in the bulldozers.
The removal of asbestos is important, federal environmental regulators say, because of the potential release of microscopic fibers that can cause cancer of the lungs, esophagus, stomach and colon.
Asbestos is a big problem in Detroit because nearly half of the city's houses were built between 1930 and 1950, the prime period when asbestos was used in insulation, paint, furnaces and vinyl floors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It also is found on hot water and steam pipes.
While the DNRE is confident that Mr. Bing can still achieve his goals of removing 3,000 structures from the city landscape, this will have to depend on a couple of things--how long the money will hold out, and how great a backlog is created as significant amounts of asbestos are located.
This is not, however, an article that tries to quantify the value of a human life. It is an article that instead recognizes that the buildings as they currently stand are already a hazard to the community. History has shown that the EPA overstated its concerns on the hazards of asbestos. Mesothelioma related deaths, the cancer most often associated with asbestos, are estimated to be approximately 1 in 1,000,000 (less than one in a city with Detroit's population.)
The DNRE is concerned with asbestos becoming airborne and therefore a threat to people who might breathe it. However, Detroit's abandoned buildings already pose an intrinsic danger to everyday citizens as well as police and fire crews.
How many deaths will be averted by the delays made necessary by the DNRE and the EPA? Then again, how many will they cause?
*** UPDATE *** 9:30 PM
Nothing motivates a bureaucrat more than one thinking his authority has been stepped on. After a little heavy petting, all is fine with the world!
"The DNRE and City of Detroit agreed that today's meeting was productive and allowed the City the opportunity to share their plans and timelines for this demolition project, and for the DNRE to outline the procedures necessary to ensure compliance with all state and federal regulations. Both parties will maintain an ongoing dialogue to ensure ongoing compliance and cooperation."