How might the City of Austin better reinforce safety requirements for demolitions?

by rachel.crist, 10 months ago
CLOSED: This discussion has concluded.

The Demolition Permits Audit Report published in August 2017 highlights concerns about demolition safety risks that are not being fully considered, such as asbestos or lead. Below is a summary of the federal and state safety regulations regarding demolitions. What role should the City of Austin play in reinforcing these requirements? 

Federal Regulations

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) details the laws and regulations pertaining to asbestos and lead-based paint. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration section, work practices, sampling, removal, and worker protections are some of the topics highlighted. However, the federal law does not detail the type of projects that must comply with asbestos or lead surveys. The EPA delegates enforcement to the state; it is each state’s responsibility to meet regulations and also to demonstrate compliance with EPA requirements. 

Source: www.epa.gov/asbestos/asbestos-laws-and-regulations

State Regulations

Under the Texas Administrative Code established by the Texas Department of State Health Service, single-family dwellings (private residences and apartment buildings with no more than four dwelling units) are excluded from providing an asbestos survey before demolition or remodeling (§295.31). An asbestos survey is required for commercial properties.

A person is prohibited from performing any asbestos-related activity unless that person has the appropriate valid license, registration, accreditation, or approved exemption (E. Prohibition)

Source: Texas Department of State Health Services Asbestos Program, Texas Asbestos Health Protection Rules; Texas Administrative Code, Title 25, Part 1, Chapter 295, Subchapter C


Consultation has concluded

  • ncarty97 about 1 year ago
    Is this an on-going problem? We already have a permit process and inspectors that review the work. Every demolition that occurs already is required to follow these regulations, bad actors are caught by the inspectors.
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    • AustinCitizen 12 months ago
      Yes, this is a problem. According to the city’s demolition audit inspectors only conduct inspections after a demolition has occurred, there are no visits before or during the job. Additionally there are currently no city rules regarding the issue of LBP and ACM and so as far as the city is concerned there are currently no “bad actors.” OSHA rules *do* apply, and there are detailed standards for lead and asbestos handling as well as for demolition work, but active enforcement is rare on the residential side of things and this enables contractors to regularly flaunt this minimum standard of safety for their crews and the public. I have suggested that a provision of any potential licensing requirement be the training of demolition crews and required compliance with OSHA regulations. I would also like to see inspectors more closely monitor these jobs and relay suspected health and safety violations to OSHA.
  • LP about 1 year ago
    Has the city fully researched wetting guidelines to reduce asbestos hazards during demolition? When proper procedures are practiced for wetting during demolition, air quality should be greatly improved. I would be curious to know if the city has researched this option which many cities use and is effective when properly monitored. Instead of asbestos removal for all historic homes (pre 1978 is the new historic), perhaps more monitoring of wetting procedures? Has the city hired an asbestos contractor to test the air quality of home demolitions with and without proper wetting and compared the differences?
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    • AustinCitizen 12 months ago
      I agree that wetting procedures should be part of any demolition redesign. However this should be used only to supplement the pre-abatement of homes for lead and asbestos and to help minimize dust from these products that may escape discovery by a required pre-demolition (or preferably de-construction) survey. The cities that you may be referring to that rely heavily on “wet-wet” demolition, Detroit and Baltimore come to mind, are faced with the task of removing large areas of dilapidated/abandoned housing that are seen as a public burden. We can learn from this, but Austin does not face this same issue. We are a fast growing city that is seeing it’s older housing stock replaced largely to suit the market demands of a new and affluent demographic (the root cause of our affordability issues). Our demolitions appear to me to be often (though certainly not always) of choice rather than necessity. I believe this imposes on us a greater obligation to take every available precaution to protect the health of workers and neighbors when these jobs are carried out. While adequate use of wetting has been shown to reduce lead fallout, I have not seen a study showing its effectiveness with asbestos, though it would make sense that it would help. The problem I see is that with wetting alone you’re not removing the lead and ACM at it’s source, but are disrupting it as part of a total structure where it may not be possible to adequately dampen it . For this process to be effective, wind must be monitored, the structure must be presoaked, the debris must be continually wetted as it’s removed and stored on site and sealed for ultimate disposal. If any portion of the debris were not properly wetted or dries out before disposal it becomes a danger again. There is also the question of how to contain contaminated runoff. The use of this method alone introduces more chance of error than would be the case if ACM and lead painted surfaces where identified and removed prior to general demolition. It would also be harder for the city to know that it had been performed correctly. As stated earlier, I do think a defined and adequate (not just a garden hose or two) wetting procedure would help in diminishing the risk posed by undiscovered ACM and LBP missed during the survey and abatement process and would also help with general dust suppression.
  • scottturner 12 months ago
    Affordability is relevant to this discussion. The city has an affordability problem, due, in part to the high regulatory cost of construction and development, which, according to the Obama Housing Toolkit, is a barrier to the creation of housing nationwide. The high cost of asbestos abatement would be yet another barrier. As some of the comments on this issue indicate, there are many health risks we encounter in our everyday lives that could be abated via regulation but are not, frequently due to the high cost. The city council routinely makes decisions that impact the health of it's residents based on budget concerns. It is not simply a health issue. The city should continue with the current policy of not requiring asbestos testing or abatement for 4 units or less.
  • LP about 1 year ago
    Last year I remodeled (down to studs) a home with asbestos siding. Instead of removing the siding, I put new siding over the asbestos which is considered good business practice because asbestos is only a problem once it is disturbed. However, I added 3 new windows to this very cute bungalow, so the city required me to get a demolition permit. When window sizes are changed the COA requires a demo permit. Under the city's proposed asbestos removal procedures, restoring this home would have been a nightmare and the city would have incentivized me to demolish the entire home and build new construction. The city's far reaching policies in regard to trees, driveways, visitability, etc. have driven me out of the business of restoration of old homes and into the business of new construction.
  • Susan Wallace about 1 year ago
    Asbestos removal permit should be required for ALL demolitions whether residential or commercial.
  • Mark Lind about 1 year ago
    There really needs to be some science and statistical evidence that is studied and assessed before regulations are enacted! Has there been any kind of study performed that would justify another review, another set of required documents, another City department, hiring more inspectors, paying the cost of a specialty company and then delaying processes for at least another month if not longer? Has there been an objective Cost/Benefit analysis performed and where can we find that on the City's website? Like many other City regulations, this one seems destined to be an unnecessarily wide overreach driven by concerns that may or may not require a response from the City. But we will never know, as long as City policies are driven by emotion instead of science! All too often, City regulations are clothed in plausible concerns that disguise their true motivations. We desperately need factual, objective evaluation of all City regulations; that really isn't asking much....
  • Sogden over 1 year ago
    Creating more regulations is not the answer and I doubt this is a big problem. Environmental remediation companies are probably behind this push.
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    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Removed by moderator.
    • Mark Lind about 1 year ago
      Agreed. Usually there is a cottage industry with a small, select number of approved vendors preselected by the City who are allowed to perform the service and are pushing for further restrictions. Really folks, if this was such a huge problem, we'd be reading about all the hospitals full of people sickened by demolished houses. (I don't think that is the case here...) There are already too many aspects of construction and daily life in Austin that are regulated by the City and adding another at a time when the City should be looking to streamline its regulatory processes is frustrating and surreal. Commercial site plan process takes anywhere from SIX MONTHS to a YEAR AND A HALF! And I've recently been told that the City is something like four weeks BEHIND on some forms of inspections! That's ridiculous. The City of Austin really should have a moratorium on enacting new regulations until it figures out how to perform its duties for the regulations it has _already_ enacted....
  • Pam Harmatiuk about 1 year ago
    Asbestos surveys should be required for the demolition of any building in Austin and the entire State of Texas. Developers, contractors etc should bear the burden of cost for these surveys and the city should have Inspectors to review and monitor the process. The safety of all citizens should be most important issue when it comes to any potential harms from things like asbestos and other substances. Often I do not believe our government agencies really see it that way.
  • AustinResident over 1 year ago
    If the City wants to know which properties have asbestos that don't fall under the state law, then the City should subsidize the costs of surveys. There are reasons that the State excluded smaller buildings, and an accurate presentation of the limits to the dangers of small levels of asbestos haven't been raised enough in this current process. Where's the science saying minimal asbestos exposure is worse than the State has determined? Please share this somewhere, otherwise it sure looks like this is politically motivated and not actually tied to the physical act of demolition.
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    • AustinCitizen over 1 year ago
      I don’t think SFH demolitions are so common in TX as a whole that the State sees it as worthwhile to look into and regulate. Travel through most of the state and you will find people living in modest housing of various ages that are maintained in place and seen as sufficient. Austin however, has seen a large increase in home demolitions, and they are concentrated in certain areas of the city, making the exposure risk greater. As the demolition audit notes, demolition permits have risen 13% every year since 2010 and 77% of those have been for SFHs. Since this is an occurrence that is increasingly common in our city in particular, it is an issue that lends itself well to city level regulation. Asbestos exposure at any level in unsafe, and to say that the fallout from residential demolitions is “minimal” or “small” is not based in fact, but would be expected to vary by materials used in the home, the size of a home, distance from other properties, dust controls used, etc. Right now, there are no real standards for how these demolitions are conducted and how neighboring properties and those doing the work are protected. No one should be forced to be unwittingly exposed to these substances.
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      • Mark Lind over 1 year ago
        Your assumption is that demolitions have a large percentage of asbestos, although there is NO EVIDENCE whatsoever off this. Please show us statistics that would justify enacting new regulations BEFORE new regulations are adopted or proposed. Not to do so, means that the City is passing new regulations that not justified. You also suggest that most demolitions are "concentrated in certain areas of the city." This is another assumption that is clearly not true, as they are happening all over. ***TO WIT : Let's have a facts based system of regulation in Austin; otherwise we're going to be forever chasing well-intentioned but ultimately self-defeating regulations that are not based upon real conditions. ***
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        • AustinCitizen over 1 year ago
          I did not write that residential demolitions in general “have a large percentage of asbestos” (this would be the purpose of a pre-demolition survey) I wrote that it was wrong to assume, as the poster before me did that the risks from asbestos exposure in residential demolitions are “small” when there are so many variables involved. I’m also not clear on what you are saying there is “no evidence” for. Are you suggesting that asbestos hazards aren’t common in older homes? For much of the 20th century asbestos containing materials were very common in residential building; this is a fact. Asbestos is often present in cement siding, drywall mud and ceiling texture, roofing materials, flooring and mastic, various types of insulation and other building products of a certain vintage. While I haven’t been able to find a reliably hard cut-off date for ACM in residential housing, the city’s demolition audit noted that 80% of all demolition permits were issued for pre’78 housing. These houses would have a strong likelihood of containing ACM as well as lead painted surfaces. The EPA states that “Asbestos-containing materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed are not likely to pose a health risk.” Of course home demolition (without pre-abatement and other safeguards) goes directly against this guidance and creates a health risk where one likely didn’t exist before. To correct this issue the city needs new rules for demolitions.As to where these demolitions are happening, yes they are occurring everywhere in this city, but looking at the maps in Exhibit 2 and Appendix B of the Demolition Audit you’ll see definite clustering in certain areas. I would be concerned if I lived in a neighborhood with multiple demolitions of older housing knowing that there are no real safeguards and no recourse with the city even if I knew the work wasn’t being done right. I think the city is belatedly realizing this and responding to people’s legitimate concerns about the issue.
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          • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
            I do live in south Allandale/ Shoalmont, a neighborhood where 30 homes, 10% of all homes, are demolished each year ! Mr. Sadowsky doesn't even know what he is exposing our wild life, pets and children to every single week.
        • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
          Removed by moderator.
      • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
        Texas is a Know-nothing, do-nothing buy whine state for the past 25 years. Department of State Health Servics (previously Texas Dept. of Health) has been in turmoil since the early Rick Perry era, because the Exec Director and Commissioners have not be concerned about the general welfare of all Texans. If they pick on sick and disabled children and adults, they don't care very much about you and your problems.
      • AustinResident about 1 year ago
        You make a couple of good points here, but there's one that needs to be addressed: "Asbestos exposure at any level in unsafe..." Unsafe may be right, but that doesn't meet a standard that has to be regulated by government necessarily. It's unsafe that construction workers might smoke and the neighbors would have to be exposed to secondhand smoke, but does it have to be regulated? It's unsafe when a whole bunch of workers park on the street and visibility is lost for drivers - but should we regulate that? It's harmful to workers that they're drinking large sodas and eating fast food - if we bear the cost in the healthcare system at the end of the day, should we regulate that too? Unfortunately the premise of your statement doesn't hold up.
    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Why should the City of Austin subsidize the cost of the surveys. Let the buyers and developers and contractors pay for adequate surveys to assure the general publics protection from hazardous(lead) and toxic (lead and mercury) and carcinogenic (asbestos) materials. They are the ones stuffing $1000 bills in their pocket every day and sucking at the government teat.
    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      There is no good reason that feds and state exempted single family homes. They exempted them because there was much weeping and gnashing of contractor and builders teeth. Meanwhile, most homeowners where taking their children to school and working to pay the mortgage, and didn't know how much whining the contractors were doing.
  • wimi about 1 year ago
    In regards to Asbestos I think a bigger concern is people living in houses with asbestos (especially floors and ceilings). Has the city looked at the health risks of people living in these houses for years and decades. And if these regulations are added obviously builders will look to avoid these houses. So by adding these regulations will likely increase the number of people at risk of long term exposure.Also for neighbors one must consider the danger of living next to a degrading house with asbestos for years and years vs the one time exposure of demolition.In my view the city must make sure the regulations don't make problems worse before moving forward.
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    • AustinCitizen about 1 year ago
      Hi, This seems a bit convoluted to me. On the one hand you suggest a risk to long-term occupants of a house (as well as their neighbors), but then stop short of accepting a need for proper abatement prior to demolition, because it might dissuade investors from purchasing these properties because of the costs involved in responsibly taking them down. Thereby in a backhanded way increasing the risk to the public, by encouraging these structures to remain in place. Am I understanding you correctly? Many people in houses with these finishes you write about have taken steps to seal these surfaces. Your example of asbestos containing ceilings are often sealed and painted, your other example of asbestos tile floors (which are not typically friable unless broken or disturbed) are often covered over with other flooring. I’m not saying this is perfect, or risk is non-existent; it’s unfortunate this material was ever used in building. However, I would think the risk here is minimal (both to occupants and neighbors) compared to the massive disruption of these surfaces by demolishing a house with asbestos materials in place. Because land values in this town have risen greatly, along with demand for high-end housing on them, I think these requirements will do little to diminish the attractiveness of these properties to investors. In the end, I think added requirements will amount to nothing more than a small hiccup in their re-development. So no, I don’t think by adding abatement requirements and other safeguards would be encouraging the retention of what you see as unhealthy housing.
    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Removed by moderator.
  • cmgiles0 about 1 year ago
    is there any history of failure to follow safety requirements? any examples of those failures and impacts? this looks like a solution looking for a problem.
    Hide reply (1)
    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Yes, there certainly is in Shoalmont and Allandale. I find it hard to believe that Mr. Sandowsky enforces the rules everywhere else in town, except Allandale. Therefore, I assume that he follows them nowhere never.
  • Mark Lind over 1 year ago
    I have worked with a lot of Contractors and they are smarter than people give them credit for. Most Contractors know when asbestos is present and will undertake remediation efforts, since they don't want to run afoul of the law and especially because they don't want to make their guys sick. Sick guys can't work, after all, and Contractors don't want to lose their employees. And since (as you note above) the state already prohibits unlawful removal of asbestos, there's really no need for the city to enact it's own set of rules, which, after all, cannot supersede the higher regulatory authority of the existing state law. Anyway, if this was indeed a huge problem, we'd have already read about all the people who have gotten sick, which just simply is not the case.... As for lead, almost every home in this country that is more than fifteen or twenty years old is going to have lead in the paint on the walls, both inside and out. Is your solution to require remediation of every single residential demolition in central Austin?? That is a completely unworkable scenario. I know that your efforts are well-intentioned and they seem reasonable, but this just doesn't seem to be a big problem that it would require more experts, more money, and more delays. Passing regulations is all well and good, but you really should be considering their impact.
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    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Removed by moderator.
  • paladinoc over 1 year ago
    A set period is generally a good idea, except when an appropriate demolition contractor can't be scheduled within that time frame - with EVERY regulation, we need to be aware of unintended consequences. Would we want an owner to have a less-than-ideal contractor demolish the building just so they can meet a time frame? Every single regulation I have seen this City implement has come with literally dozens of unexpected and unintended consequences. It seems no one ever sits down and looks at how all of these processes conflict with each other and with the City's overarching goals. We SAY we want more affordable housing, and we want to slow the increase in housing costs. Yet all of these processes that are supposedly to "protect" residents just wind up driving the costs higher, while providing little real protection. Those residents who despise developers fail to remember that these are businesses, and it is in the BUSINESS' best interest to do things right - a builder's interests are actually quite well aligned with the neighborhood's.
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    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Removed by moderator.
  • paladinoc over 1 year ago
    In addition, I don;t think the City has provided any real examples of where citizens have been "exposed" or otherwise harmed by the safety risks posed by demolitions. I'm afraid this is another example of a solution being sought to a problem that does not exist.
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    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Neighbors are exposed everyday that DAR and other demo contractors bang a house to pieces, allowing the dust, pollen, crushed linoleum and wall board to float free into the surrounding neighborhood. The dusts contain not only lead and asbestos from pre-1972 houses, but also pollens and dust particles and bacteria from the past 50 years. Additionally, the demo releases all the MERCURY vapor from broken thermometers back into the air of the neighborhood. All of these particles are a major source of allergens.
  • DavidW over 1 year ago
    It would be valuable during the decision making process if the City could provide data on how many injuries or health issues have been reported and attributed to the residential demolition industry here in Austin. Then focus any new requirements accordingly.
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    • Caroline Reynolds about 1 year ago
      Removed by moderator.
  • M.M.M. over 1 year ago
    I would like to see a timeframe for the demolition - a set period when the demotion must be commenced and completed. And including this in the notice to neighbors would be very helpful - we could know what to expect and when instead of guessing as to why there is a delay and what is happening. Demolition is messy and the condition of the property during such work is dangerous so I think a narrowly tailored window would be appreciated by neighbors.
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    • cmgiles0 about 1 year ago
      .
  • wimi about 1 year ago
    In regards to what the city should do. They should require watering the house before the demo. This is one of the best ways to avoid particles becoming airborne. This would also not increase the chance of asbestos houses not being demoed but continually degrading.
  • Ford Prefect over 1 year ago
    Consider mitigation requirements for asbestos, lead and other toxic chemicals on single-family residential demolitions.