Behind the Scenes: Environmental Assessments

We are often asked about the day-to-day work of the Cuyahoga Land Bank from curious residents and community leaders.  In this ongoing Behind the Scenes series, we take a look at the extensive environmental assessment work done on every residential and commercial property in the Cuyahoga Land Bank inventory.  Rosemary Woodruff, Senior Environmental Property Specialist, sat down to answer some frequently asked questions:

What type of environmental issues do you look for prior to demolition? We handle two kinds of properties: commercial/industrial and residential. We commission an asbestos survey on every residential dwelling, looking for asbestos in wall and ceiling plaster, drywall joint compound, pipe insulation, window glazing, and flooring. Occasionally we find old heating oil tanks in basements that need to be drained. Other environmental concerns are household cleaning products, old paint, and pesticides.  Assessing environmental hazards in commercial or industrial properties requires a more intense level of scrutiny from professional environmental firms. The Cuyahoga Land Bank has been awarded two large grants from the EPA to help us look for such things as underground storage tanks at abandoned gas stations; PCBs; cyanide salts; dry cleaning chemicals, and more.

Why not just perform demolitions and remove hazards with the debris? Out of concern for public health, the Federal government passed laws requiring removal of asbestos and other environmental hazards prior to or, in certain cases, during demolition. Special landfills and incineration facilities are used to contain or process these wastes and keep them out of our air, land and water.

Who performs the environmental surveys? State-licensed Asbestos Hazard Evaluation Specialists perform asbestos surveys of residential properties. These Evaluation Specialists initially take 5-day training classes and then a one-day refresher annually after that. Land Bank staff members have also taken the training so we can be sure the survey work is done correctly. For commercial and industrial projects, we hire experienced environmental consulting firms to prepare assessments which may include conducting tests of building materials and drilling to identify contaminated soil or groundwater.

How many properties are assessed for environmental hazards each year? In 2018, the Cuyahoga Land Bank demolished 1,100 structures. Each one required an asbestos survey. A grant from the EPA supports environmental assessments of commercial and industrial sites. We provide access to these funds to assist municipalities, CDCs and others with priority sites that they desire to have assessed, and we also tap into these funds to assess demolition sites. We funded 10 assessment projects in 2018. Our EPA-funded work in recent years has supported the redevelopment of sites for new businesses, housing for the homeless, and many acres of public open space.

What are the most serious types of hazardous materials that surveys and assessments have uncovered? Pipe insulation can contain upwards of 80% asbestos, so it is important that this be carefully removed. The work area is isolated, and pipes are wrapped before they are taken out. We once demolished a house that required decontamination of a meth lab, which are typically laden with hazardous chemicals or residues. PCB-laden paint taken from the ceiling of a former dairy had to be shipped to a special hazardous waste facility in Michigan.

Anything else we should know about your assessment work? After residential asbestos is identified, this material must be abated prior to demolition.  Having demolished more than 7,500 residential properties, this phase of our work has put millions of dollars into the Cuyahoga County economy. On the commercial/industrial side, the remediation phase has pulled in resources from the State of Ohio Development Services Agency, Jobs Ohio, HUD, Cuyahoga County and private developers.

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