Safer demolitions must be KC's goal
The Kansas City Star
Knocking down vacant and dangerous houses is a dirty — and absolutely necessary — job in Kansas City.
Eliminating these public safety hazards benefits current residents. And it frees up land for new housing and homeowners. Correctly so, Mayor Sly James and the City Council have set aside millions of dollars to demolish around 1,000 houses the next few years.
But the city must do more to make sure the demolitions occur as safely as possible.
Based on interviews Monday, The Star recommends that the city take at least two added steps to protect the public’s health.
The city needs to require — not just encourage — contractors to use water to reduce the amount of dust produced when houses are torn down.
The city should take air and ground samples to determine the amount of lead that exists in the dust during and after upcoming demolitions.
If unsafe amounts of lead are found in the air or on the ground, the city must become more aggressive in reducing the risk that’s being creates for people.
For instance, a study that compared demolition practices in Chicago and Baltimore found that Baltimore used up to 17 different techniques to drastically cut the spread of dust, led by “substantial use of water throughout the process.”
The testing and the addition of other steps to cut dust production would increase the present cost of demolition work.
But they also could save on future health care bills for residents who might be adversely affected by the dust, especially from lead found in paint in older houses.
Danny Rotert, a spokesman for James, on Monday stressed the point that the city’s demolition program is taking care of known safety hazards — vacant buildings. That’s an excellent reason to proceed with the ambitious effort to rid the city of the blighting structures. Rotert also noted that city health officials do not have reports of harm done to the health of residents by past demolitions. However, that work occurred at a much slower pace.
Both Rotert and Bert Malone, deputy director of the Health Department, acknowledged that the city has not tested lead levels for the air or ground at demolition sites in recent months.
“But I’m guaranteeing that will happen,” Rotert told The Star.
We support that approach. The city needs better information on this issue, and so do the people who live nearby.
The samples would be sent to a laboratory for tests to see whether lead levels exceeded federal guidelines.
Kansas City needs to reassure residents that as it takes care of one public health nuisance it is not creating another serious problem.