Detroit works to prevent health problems amid stepped-up demolitions of blighted buildings


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DETROIT — Officials in Detroit are taking steps to prevent respiratory illness and other health problems among residents living near vacant and blighted properties slated for demolition.

The city is urging residents to keep watch on demolitions and hold contractors accountable, The Detroit News reported ( ). Federal environmental officials on a city task force with the state Department of Environmental Quality and private contractors are pleased with the effort.

"Having completed a major overhaul of the demolition process, Detroit's new demolition practices balance speed, cost and environmental performance," the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement. "These practices may be applicable to other communities seeking to reduce the environmental impact of demolitions, comply with applicable environmental regulations, and ultimately leave sites better positioned for future reuse."

The health efforts come as the city ramps up to about 200 demolitions per week.

The city of Detroit has worked for years to deal with blight, including vacant homes and buildings, and thousands of structures have been razed. In May, the city rolled out regulations for its contractors, hired watchdogs to monitor demolitions and mounted an aggressive campaign to inform residents on how to guard against dust and debris that pose health risks.

"This is the first time I've ever seen something like this," said Andre Bey, 44, pointing out large, yellow notices on houses slated for leveling near his northwest Detroit home.

"I'm glad they notified us. It's a step that makes it a little bit safer than it was," Bey said.

Regulators examined demolition procedures in Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago and Cleveland, then created regulations to protect the health of Detroit residents, said Building Authority Director David Manardo.

"We take this very seriously," Manardo said.

The city has adopted new dust suppression strategies to minimize respiratory problems. It is also tracking elevated blood-lead levels in children and respiratory hospitalizations "to make sure our precautions are enough," said Regina Royan, an epidemiologist in the city's Department of Health and Wellness Promotion.

Information from: The Detroit News,

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