Oregon Legislature Passes Bill Requiring Asbestos Survey Prior to Home Demolitions

Posted on January 5, 2016

In October we reported on the hundreds of asbestos-laden homes in Portland, Oregon that were destroyed without appropriate safety precautions in place. Now, the State legislature is taking action to prevent residents and workers from being exposed to asbestos by requiring inspection of all homes prior to demolition.

According to a Dec. 24 article in the Statesman Journal, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 705 after concerns were raised over the lack of oversight in the demolition of older homes. The bill requires the Environmental Quality Commission to prohibit demolition of a residence without an asbestos survey first being conducted.

The bill states:

The Environmental Quality Commission shall adopt rules prohibiting the demolition of a residence or residential building unless an asbestos survey has been conducted by an inspector accredited in accordance with rules adopted by the commission for the purpose of determining whether asbestos-containing materials are present at the residence or residential building and for other purposes as determined by the commission.

“We’re seeing many neighborhoods being transformed as a result of older homes being demolished and replaced by new, often larger homes or by multi-family residences,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, sponsor of the bill. “These demolitions have created many issues for neighbors. Among them is the negative health effect of dust and debris that may contain carcinogens and other harmful materials, such as asbestos.”

Exceptions to the law include case-by-case exemptions, and residences built after Jan. 1, 2004. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Asbestos was used heavily in construction materials prior to the 1980s. Buildings built before that time are typically laden with the toxic material. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease as fibers become embedded and accumulate in lung tissue over time. The dangers begin when the asbestos is disturbed and becomes airborne.

Asbestos is a carcinogen and even small amounts and infrequent exposure can create a risk for contracting mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. With a decades-long latency period, anyone who is exposed to the material is at a lifetime risk of developing mesothelioma. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with the terminal cancer.

Asbestos exposure should not be taken lightly. The bill concludes with the following statement:

“This 2015 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is declared to exist, and this 2015 Act takes effect on its passage.”