City of Detroit Re-hires Asbestos Offender

Just a handful of weeks after federal prosecutors in Michigan accused a contractor of shoddy demolition practices that exposed his workers and others in a southwest Detroit neighborhood to dangerous asbestos, the city re-hired him to tear down more abandoned homes, reports an article in the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit Re-hires Asbestos OffenderThe city finally noticed the error of their ways after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued dozens and dozens of violations against the company – Brown Environmental Construction – in mid-2016.

At that point, they finally suspended Jesse Brown’s company for the second time and, hopefully, for the last time, say concerned citizens and area politicians.

Now, the city says they are aiming to permanently disbar Brown from bidding on any city demolition or construction projects and will arrest him if he tries to do work on city properties.

These are strong words from a group of people that let the asbestos offender get away with a list of dangerous practices before suspending him.

The article notes that Brown has received 30 violations from the DEQ since 2014 and had amassed $40,000 in fines. That, the reporter points out, is far more than any other contractor hired to tear down blighted homes in Detroit’s most run-down neighborhoods.

Despite the violations, however, Brown’s company tore down 256 houses since 2014 and earned $2.58 million dollars before they banned him from continuing such work.

The suspension happened when 13 violations for non-removal of asbestos were issued in early June 2016.

“The situation became so dire the city brought in the fire department to wet the piles of debris from those buildings until the refuse could be hauled away, according to city e-mail,” reporter Jennifer Dixon wrote. “Firefighters used the water to ensure asbestos didn’t go airborne, when it can be inhaled or settle on clothing, cars, picnic tables and other surfaces.”

Brown’s lawyer has disputed the violations, saying that the contractor believed his sub-contractor had removed the asbestos before he demolished those 13 properties last year.

In the meantime, many are questioning who in Detroit city government is overseeing the massive city demolition projects and why no one caught this problem years ago when it began.

Melvin Holowell, a lawyer for the city, told the newspaper that Brown had a legal right to bid on demolition contracts. When the violations had piled up, he says, the city took the harshest action they could take against the contractor.

Still, no one seems to be able to answer why it took so long to put a stop to Brown’s life-threatening practices involving asbestos. When asbestos is not removed from a property before demolition, the possibility of errant asbestos fibers permeating the air is high.

As such, anyone that inhales the particles becomes susceptible to developing an asbestos-related disease later in life, including mesothelioma cancer.

Furthermore, Brown’s lackadaisical attitude toward asbestos is surprising. His father died of mesothelioma a number of years ago.