Fedor Zarkhin, writer for The Oregonian|OregonLive, wrote an article, “Unsettling dust: Hundreds of Portland homes demolished with asbestos inside,” this week. It exposed poor demolition practices in the tear-down of hundreds of Portland homes. While Oregon regulations require asbestos removal by licensed contractors, the rules are weak and few contractors even know they exist. With virtually no oversight, regulators are unaware when rules are broken.
In one neighborhood, Heather Dickinson saw the home next door torn down creating a dust cloud that entered her home and spread over the area. None of the workers wore respirator masks. Only because she reported this did any regulators know of the problem. It was discovered that hundreds of square feet of asbestos flooring and insulation were inside the destroyed home. This hidden danger was not unusual. Contractors tore down hundreds of Portland homes without proper asbestos removal—most homes were never even tested. Yet, asbestos is the factor in many lung cancers and in mesothelioma, a deadly disease. These tiny asbestos fibers float through the air and are inhaled by those who work or live around them.
Complaints from the construction industry have caused the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to ignore abuses, even though the DEQ was aware of them. In 2002, an effort to improve asbestos oversight never materialized. Since then, approximately 650 homes with asbestos are torn down annually, meaning thousands were demolished in the past 13 years. The lackadaisical attitude is also exhibited by a vacancy in the asbestos inspector position for the Portland region throughout the past three years.
Though new legislation, starting in 2016, requires owners or contractors to check for asbestos before a demolition, no ability or process to check on these inspections or removals was created. When an asbestos-filled building is demolished, no state agency, or even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), notifies employees or neighbors of their future risks. “One would like to think that we’re all OK,” Dickinson said of her family. “But you know, who knows?”