UN HQ Undergoes Asbestos Removal
When the headquarters building for the United Nations was completed in the early 1950s, it was considered a crowning achievement in both architecture and world politics. Even into the twenty-first century, the UN building is recognized by tourists from around the world as being as much of a New York landmark as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Radio City Music Hall.
For a site that people have associated with global peace and harmony throughout its history, the structure now carries a different image, one of a building full of one of the highest concentrations of asbestos found in New York. Last week, the global agency opened a temporary office building on the north lawn of its campus as the historic structure undergoes remodeling to meet with state and federal building codes. One of the tasks allotted to work crews will be to remove more than a thousand pounds of asbestos from the thirty-nine-story structure.
Even with nearly two-dozen asbestos remediation projects underway at the historic site, more than a thousand UN staffers continue to carry out their daily duties, representing almost two hundred countries. Most of the senior staff, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, has moved to the new three-story facility on the north lawn. Many lower-ranking workers, still forced to deal with asbestos removal projects going on around their desks, have voiced their displeasure at the move.
According to the president of the staff workers’ union, Stephen Kisambira, the safety of his union members “is being compromised” in order to get the asbestos abatement work done on time and under budget. He claims that the Secretary-General and other UN leaders broke their promise not to begin the asbestos cleanup work until all of the staff had left the building and located other facilities to carry out their work. The estimated time for the completion of the relocation project was slated for March 2010, but the work on the asbestos removal projects began just after the New Year started.
A UN official who spoke to the press on the condition of anonymity said that he estimates that the building still holds more than a thousand pounds of asbestos, even after the most recent round of removal and cleanup. During the first full weekend of 2010, the official stated that the contractors, Skanska USA Building Inc., had removed less than eight ounces of asbestos per floor in the old structure, totaling less than twenty pounds.
Secretary-General Ban said that the team behind the renovation is taking precautions “not to cause any health hazard” during the process and reiterated that only small samples have been taken. He said that the majority of the work would only start after the rest of the staff had been relocated.
Another concern that staffers have expressed is that neither UN officials nor Skanska work crews have released any of the data they have gathered during routine sampling tests to determine the level of asbestos concentrations in the air. Officials also have yet to provide an estimated completion date for the asbestos-removal phase of the project, although they expect the full renovation to be ready in three years.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, Inner City Press