What UNR does, and why

Portland grassroots group United Neighborhoods for Reform seeks to stem the demolition of viable, affordable housing. Our demolition/development resolution, developed through significant neighbor outreach, gathered endorsements from 43 neighborhood associations citywide. We also regularly take our message to City Hall, starting in December 2014, continuing in 2015 on Feb. 12, June 3 (UNR presenters start at 51:20), Oct. 14 (UNR at 1:07:35), and Nov. 25 (UNR at 1:05); in 2016 on Feb. 17, Nov. 9 and 16, and Dec. 7; in 2017 on May 17; and in 2018 on Feb. 1.

"The time is always right to do what is right."
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Let's get the lead (and asbestos) out of demolitions

Who needs to breathe? A developer prepares a site
by removing every tree and shrub. Then the house
was bulldozed on a windy day this week, likely
releasing hazmat across the neighborhood.

Some supporters have embraced the demolition/development resolution from United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR) for the public-safety element alone. Control of hazmat, particularly lead and asbestos, is such a no-brainer for health protection that it is already regulated in painting and renovation jobs of 6 square feet or more. But not for demolitions, when typically thousands of square feet of construction is involved and clouds of these materials can travel up to 400 feet throughout the neighborhood, with particles tracked inside by people, picked up by children, and posing irreversible damage.

The Centers for Disease Control's position on lead: "No safe blood level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement." They say the only way to avoid lead poisoning is eliminating exposure in the first place; United Neighborhoods for Reform demands that lead (and asbestos) fallout during demolition receive the serious attention they deserve.

Given that the average age of the homes being demolished in Portland is 87 years, there must be multiple coats of pre-1978 lead-full paint on walls, floors, trim, and ceilings crumbling along with the rest of the structure. In the first half of the 20th century, up to 70 percent of a can of paint consisted of lead pigments. Put another way, public health historian David Rosner estimates that a gallon of paint then contained 15 pounds of lead. Read more on this issue here.

Aside from refraining from eating any backyard produce for a couple of years (or ever?) if you live within a few hundred feet of a demolition site, what else can you do? Ask City Council to prioritize public safety over developers' profits, and to quit passing the buck to state and federal authorities. Across Oregon, cities such as Medford, Lake Oswego, Hillsboro, and Tualatin require more control of hazmat in demolitions than Portland does—and they're probably not losing hundreds of classic, affordable well-built homes every year.

Stumptown it is.
For a long, thorough look at the irresponsible, dangerous demolition practices in place today, watch this video of a Portland demolition, including a hapless neighborhood kid wandering close (5:10) to the trackhoe and presumably breathing whatever emanated.

As UNR member and Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association president John Sandie pointed out in his testimony to City Council on Dec. 17,
"Protecting the safety and health of its citizens is a core responsibility of any municipality's governing body. Mayor Hales said it himself in a recent op-ed, and I quote: 'Governments must ensure the safety of everyone.'"
What are we waiting for?

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