May 5, 2022 - News

Scoop: Detroit, demo contractors get environmental fines

A Detroit home being demolished.
A Detroit home being demolished. Photo: City of Detroit via Flickr

The state has fined Detroit $24,500 in the last eight months over environmental safety violations by contractors hired to demolish houses as part of the city's long-running blight removal campaign.

Why it matters: These breached asbestos-handling safeguards were put in place to protect residents' health.

  • State inspectors found four home demolition sites where national asbestos regulations were violated, according to letters provided to Axios.
  • This isn't a first — previous violations of environmental rules led the city and state to a consent judgment in 2018 that instituted fines and more inspections.

The big picture: Since taking office in 2014, Mayor Mike Duggan has prioritized demolishing the city’s massive number of blighted homes.

Driving the news: Some businesses awarded recent demolition contracts are failing to adequately inspect sites for contaminants, remove asbestos or secure contaminated sites, according to demolition department reports.

  • Detroit recorded no asbestos-related violations between March and August 2021. That's compared with nine violations the city recorded between September 2021 and March this year by companies Rickman Enterprise Group, Detroit Next, Salenbien Trucking & Excavating, SC Environmental Services, Mannik Smith Group and others.
  • Some companies are still appealing their violation notices.

Of note: Sites where contractors disobeyed asbestos protocol were corrected before demolition occurred and threw asbestos into the air, according to Detroit Demolition Department director LaJuan Counts and a state spokesperson.

  • Asbestos is linked to cancer and lung problems, but generally not before it's flung into the air during a tear-down or construction work.

What they're saying: The large number of demolitions in Detroit means it's important to watch how these protocols are followed, says Nick Schroek, an associate dean at University of Detroit Mercy and an environmental law expert.

  • "I like to see the enforcement, because it means the city and state are paying attention, and I don't think that was the case previously," Schroek tells Axios.

What's next: The demolition department is penalizing contractors and boosting its environmental due diligence team from six to 11 to help stop future violations, Counts said.

  • The city is making the contractors pay the fines imposed by the state because the city isn’t doing the work itself, she said.
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