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House demolition stalled: Asbestos found - near Duniway

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - On the day after the remodeling permit was issued for demolition, this house - directly across the street from Duniway Elementary School - was rapidly deconstructed. When Eastmoreland neighbors saw a wrecking crew ripping apart a house at 3431 S.E. Rex Street on Tuesday, May 6 – directly across the street from Duniway Elementary School’s playground – they became concerned.

Work at the house, slated for an “extensive renovation” under the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS) permit #2014-130676-000-00-RS, raised both eyebrows and concerns about the work taking place.

A review of public records shows what Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association (ENA) Board Member Kimberly Koehler had asserted. From the start of the permitting process on March 25, not one of the twelve workers from many Bureaus – ranging from Urban Forestry, to the Structural and Life Safety inspectors – had requested proof of asbestos inspection/abatement.

“This house was built in 1940, and likely contains asbestos,” Koehler said.

Early the next day, ENA officials contacted Duniway Principal Matthew Goldstein and warned of the potential asbestos danger to schoolchildren playing across the street.

Both ENA board members and nearby neighbors contacted both Oregon OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the DEQ, and the Oregon Health Authority, alerting the agencies of the potential exposure.

OSHA notified the property owner, Classic Image Homes, LLC, warning that without a written response within five days detailing their asbestos abatement plan, an OSHA inspector would visit the site. The work came to a halt.

On May 8, Sones-Stohosky Environmental Laboratory, Inc., workers took samples in and around the now torn-open house, and indeed discovered friable asbestos – that’s any asbestos-containing material that can be easily crumbled, and released into the air.

The lab report showed asbestos also in the floor tiles, and there was a small amount in roofing debris.

Neighbors saw a contingent of workers in hazardous material “bunny suits”, from Enviromex Contracting, Inc., at the house on Monday, May 12, performing a Full Containment Abatement.

An inspector for the Oregon Construction Contractors Board visited the site to monitor whether properly-certified workers were removing toxic materials.

After HazMat workers departed the site, the entire house was wrapped in plastic.

“The Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association is suggesting to city officials that the issuing of building permit should be tied to a mandatory asbestos inspection, rather than a voluntary one,” Koehler said dryly.

Koehler said that a neighborhood resident had contacted the Portland Bureau of Development Services about the situation on May 8, and received an e-mail reply allegedly from Colleen Poole, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Development Services. The reply: “The city does not regulate air quality, including asbestos or lead paint. ... [We] ... do not regulate the proximity of schools with respect to demolition or renovation activities.”

“If only just one of the city employees who touched that building permit before it was issued had asked to see proof of an asbestos inspection,” Koehler pointed out, “our children would not have been exposed to it, as they played innocently nearby.”

After the immediate danger was abated, Principal Goldstein thanked the neighborhood association in a note, saying he appreciated their actions “aimed at protecting the environment and the health of the citizenry”.