Experts Deem New Legislation in Oregon Insufficient, Call for Stricter Asbestos Rules

On October 19, 2015, Oregon environmental regulators invited two dozen asbestos experts to a meeting in an effort to determine the best way to implement a new law that would require contractors to investigate for asbestos when demolishing a house. The group, however, went far beyond the scope of this approved legislation, determining that contractors should provide documented proof that they’ve checked for asbestos before a demolition, that asbestos work done by homeowners should no longer be exempt, and that the rule should apply to renovations in addition to demolitions.

An analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive uncovered several weaknesses in the state’s current system for controlling asbestos, leading to this discussion. The analysis provided that contractors in Portland had torn down hundreds of houses with asbestos inside from 2011 to 2014 and that while 80 to 90 percent of homes being demolished have asbestos, only 33 percent had the asbestos removed. Currently, environmental regulators believe that about 650 homes are demolished in Oregon with asbestos in place per year.

Additionally, Southwest Washington homes have proven to remove asbestos at a higher percentage than Portland. In Southwest Washington, 55 percent of homes had asbestos removed before demolition as a result of its more comprehensive system for documenting asbestos removal. Accordingly, a Washington official was among the experts that spoke with the group on October 19, 2015.

Department officials have stated that the discussion was limited to the scope of Sen. Michael Dembrow’s bill, which does not require contractors to check homes for asbestos before renovations, and that a more comprehensive review of the asbestos rules is planned for 2017.

Interestingly, this is not the first time that the environmental regulators have attempted to require inspections before demolitions. In 2002, a rule change was approved that required the asbestos inspections prior to any and all demolitions and renovations in the state. However, the rule change was repealed months after it was supposed to take effect as a result of industry opposition. Although the department had promised to revisit the rules and find the perfect middle ground between the interests of public safety and industry concerns, it never did.