Crews Demolish Asbestos Homes, Neighbors Not Warned

Asbestos Exposure & Bans
Reading Time: 4 mins
Publication Date: 10/08/2015
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed

Asbestos.com is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us

Testimonials

"My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family."
Lashawn
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite Asbestos.com’s Article

APA

Swantek, B. (2020, December 18). Crews Demolish Asbestos Homes, Neighbors Not Warned. Asbestos.com. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www.asbestos.com/news/2015/10/08/portland-homes-with-asbestos-demolished/

MLA

Swantek, Beth. "Crews Demolish Asbestos Homes, Neighbors Not Warned." Asbestos.com, 18 Dec 2020, https://www.asbestos.com/news/2015/10/08/portland-homes-with-asbestos-demolished/.

Chicago

Swantek, Beth. "Crews Demolish Asbestos Homes, Neighbors Not Warned." Asbestos.com. Last modified December 18, 2020. https://www.asbestos.com/news/2015/10/08/portland-homes-with-asbestos-demolished/.

Kimberly Koehler dropped everything when a neighbor called her to report a plume of dust after a construction crew demolished a house in their Portland, Oregon, subdivision.

Koehler, an Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association board member, immediately went to the site and confronted one of the workers. She demanded proof the house was asbestos-free.

When he failed to produce any documentation, she immediately contacted the state agency that oversees worker safety.

Within two hours, investigators isolated the site and began sampling for asbestos contamination that later tested positive. The demo crew consisted of four men, all without respirators. The state levied heavy fines on the construction company as well as the
homebuilder who contracted the demolition.

The incident represents a lack of oversight, enforcement and safety precautions among state and local officials when it comes to properly razing Portland homes contaminated with deadly asbestos.

Asbestos Prevalent in Old Homes

Before the 1970s, building materials, such as floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement shingles and pipe insulation, often contained asbestos fibers.

Industry experts say 80 to 90 percent of old homes facing demolition probably contain the carcinogen.

When inhaled, asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that can take 10 to 40 years to arise after exposure. People diagnosed with the cancer live an average of only one year after diagnosis.

A state workplace safety official said the men working at the Portland site Koehler visited were most likely exposed to the killer fiber because they lacked protective gear.

Demolition of Homes Contaminated with Asbestos Below the Radar

Unfortunately, catching illegal activity involving asbestos is random and rare in Portland. According to a report in The Oregonian, state officials lack oversight.

The Department of Environmental Quality
(DEQ) is responsible for protecting the public from asbestos. In 2002, the agency enacted a rule requiring every building to be inspected for asbestos prior to demolition.

But before the rule change, the DEQ failed to consult construction industry associations. The associations objected to the new safety measure, claiming there wouldn’t be enough licensed inspectors to meet demand, and it would cause homeowners to remove asbestos on their own without taking proper precautions.

The DEQ reversed the rule about four months after passing it, explaining the agency needed to “provide immediate relief” for businesses.

“It’s appalling. Most people think of DEQ as a green organization,” Koehler said. “But as a matter of fact, they’re not looking out for our interests.”

asbestos cancer guide
Exposed to Asbestos?
Get a free asbestos cancer guide shipped overnight.

In a written statement , the DEQ said:

“Oregon’s asbestos regulations require that building owners be responsible for knowing whether their buildings contain asbestos materials and for proper management of asbestos containing materials.”

The agency also said it works mostly on referrals and complaints rather than more proactive measures.

DEQ director Dick Pedersen declined an interview, but the agency’s written statement addressed a question about whether environmental regulators are doing enough to protect the public from asbestos released during home demolitions.

Public health is protected when asbestos removal and disposal are done properly and in accordance with DEQ requirements. When people violate these rules it can lead to increased risk of exposure for workers and the general public. DEQ works to ensure compliance with our regulations through complaint
response, inspections and by licensing abatement contractors, the DEQ said.

Contractors demolished an estimated 200 homes containing asbestos in 2012 and 2013, records show. However, DEQ officials issued no asbestos-related fines during that period.

An analysis of city and state data shows contractors reported removing asbestos in only 33 percent of Portland homes demolished from 2011 to 2014.

Records also show DEQ has kept the asbestos inspector position that oversees the Portland area vacant for the past three years.

New Legislation Lacks Teeth

Community action prompted new state legislation that becomes effective in 2016. The new law requires contractors or owners to examine homes for asbestos prior to demolition.

However, the law creates no protocol for the state to confirm whether the contractors follow through on performing the inspections or removing any asbestos they find.

Local government officials are trying to fill that gap. The city of Portland recently started requiring contractors to provide proof they’ve removed asbestos in homes they are planning to tear down, but city officials admit they have no enforcement authority.

Portland Residents Questioning Their Safety

Heather Dickinson is the neighbor who witnessed the dust plume and called Koehler.

Her 8- and 6-year-old boys stood outside, watching the crews bulldoze the house. When the dust billowed out of the wreckage, she ordered them inside.

The residue eventually blanketed the outside of her house.

“The only reason they got caught in this situation was because a neighbor made a phone call,” Dickinson said of the contractors. “One would like to think that we’re all okay. But you know, who knows?”

Free Mesothelioma Resources
Get Access to Free Resources for Patients & Loved Ones