April 28 2010 12:00 AM

Shady demolitions of unsafe structures may be more common than thought

A local asbestos-testing expert says that instances of houses being demolished without proper asbestos abatement are probably happening more than most people think. Also, he said, his own company has been fraudulently listed as an asbestos inspector on paperwork that demolition contractors supply to the state.

Phil Peterson, who manages asbestos and environmental hygiene services with Fibertec, a firm in Holt that does asbestos testing, said that most demolition contractors follow state and federal regulations before demolishing a structure, but some smaller firms may not know the rules.

“It’s probably happening a lot more than we would wish,” Peterson said.

Peterson said that in the past three years, Fibertec has been called twice by state officials inquiring about an asbestos test on a structure slated for demolition. But Fibertec had not been hired to do the asbestos testing.

“If it’s happening to me, it could be happening to other folks,” Peterson said.

City Pulse reported last week that demolition began on a house at 806 N. Cedar St. in Lansing without required asbestos testing. The house was being torn down under the city of Lansing’s “make safe or demolish” process, which the city uses to remove unsafe structures.

The city of Lansing, according to its demolition contract, requires that structures it orders demolished be checked for asbestos — but the city leaves it up to the contractor to ensure this happens.

Demolition contractors are required to give the state Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10 days’ notice before tearing down a structure.

According to documents provided by the DNRE, the department did not receive a 10-day notice for 806 N. Cedar from the demolition contractors, Youngstrom Contracting, until March 23. City officials said demolition on the house began March 17.

According to the documents, 350 square feet of siding with asbestos in it had to be removed from 806 N. Cedar.

to city contracts, the bid that went out to demolish 806 N. Cedar
included two other houses: 1619 Bailey St. and 825 Clayton St. Robert
McCann, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said
the agency had not received a demolition notice for either of those
properties, but the home on Bailey Street did not require one because
it was an emergency demolition.

regulators say they either check up on asbestos notifications randomly
or are referred to a site, often by other agencies. Robert Pawlowski,
director of MIOSHA’s construction safety and health division, said that
between Oct. 1 2008, and Sept. 30 2009, the department checked on 123
demolition sites to ensure that asbestos removal notifications were
being followed. Of those, the department did 48, 31 were from
complaints, and 26 were referrals from other agencies. The department,
which has two and one half employees devoted to inspections, issued 148
citations during those inspections.

Pawlowski said he did not know how many demolitions were done across the state in that period.

activity has increased because of stimulus money,” Pawlowski said,
referring to federal stimulus money being given to cities to buy
bank-owned properties, some of which will be demolished. On March 31, a
massive federally funded effort to tear down 3,000 unsafe homes in
Detroit was stopped because proper paperwork related to asbestos
removal was not filed with the DNRE. Lansing is set to tear down 250
homes north of Mt. Hope Avenue with federal money, though Lansing
Planning and Neighborhood Development Director Bob Johnson said that
the city plans to do environmental assessments beforehand.

Suty, president of Asbestos Abatement Inc. in Lansing, said that it is
typical to find asbestos in homes built before 1980 in pipes, ductwork,
floor tiles, drywall, insulation and siding. The cost to remove
asbestos in a typical home, he said, could be as little as $50 up into
the hun dreds of dollars.

“You’ve got to open up all the cavities in a house and everything must be identified prior to demolition,” he said.

said that many factors determine the cost of asbestos testing, but for
a typical house, it could range from $500 to $750. Peterson said that
it would be hard to tell how much asbestos was released from a
demolition, if any, without knowing more about the house.

city of Lansing is not alone in having a demolition process that
oversees environmental contaminates. According to the Michigan
Municipal League, of nine cities that have demolition ordinances —
Grand Rapids, Bad Axe, Zeeland, Springfield, Portage, Montrose,
Kingsford, Fraser and Dearborn Heights — none specify that asbestos or
other environmental contaminates must be removed prior to demolition.
Under Lansing Township’s demolition ordinance, the property owner must
provide a sworn affidavit stating that he has no knowledge of hazardous materials in the property, asbestos or other.

Hayward, Lansing Township’s planning director, said the ordinance was
put in place when the township realized that former General Motors
Corp. factories would be demolished. But the ordinance still
encompasses any entity tearing down a structure, including the
government. Hayward said that the township has only torn down two
properties in the last three years, but it did a “stringent” demolition
plan with the contractor to comply with the ordinance.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where our action is detrimental (to neighbors),” Hayward said.