* Concerns voiced over renovation of UN headquarters
* 60-year-old NY skyscraper getting $2 billion overhaul
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, April 16 Many people at U.N.
headquarters worry about security risks and exposure to toxic
asbestos during the upcoming renovation of the 60-year-old New
York skyscraper, its staff union chief said on Thursday.
The $2 billion renovation project is intended to make the
blue-green tinted 40-story building along Manhattan's East
River safer, more comfortable and greener.
During the renovation, which is already underway and is
expected to take several years, U.N. employees, contractors and
accredited media representatives will be moved to temporary
office spaces inside or near the U.N. complex.
Stephen Kisambira, president of the United Nations staff
union, held a rare news conference at U.N. headquarters to
voice staff concerns about the so-called Capital Master Plan.
"Asbestos abatement is a serious issue," he told reporters.
"The risk is there ... They are saying that nothing can go
wrong. How can they be sure?"
Removal of the cancer-causing flame-retardant asbestos
lining the ceiling tiles of the U.N. building is one of the
most sensitive aspects of the renovation.
The project's manager, New York architect Michael
Adlerstein, has assured U.N. staff that there is nothing to
worry about. His office has set up a website that explains
various aspects of the renovation, including asbestos
"There are very stringent requirements for asbestos
procedures, and those will be followed by the contractors," the
website says. But Kisambira is not convinced.
One of the problems, he said, was that contractors removing
the asbestos cannot be sued because of the special legal status
of the United Nations, which is technically not U.S. territory.
Because of the lack of liability, he said, many staff are
worried that the contractors will be less careful than usual.
Neither Adlerstein, his spokesman nor the construction
manager, Skanska USA Building, were available for comment.
'VULNERABLE TO ATTACKS'
Kisambira said that the problem of asbestos in the U.N.
building is not a new one. He said New York City authorities
were permitted to take air samples in the building several
years ago but their findings were never released.
He also complained that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
and his administration have not carried out a threat and risk
assessment for most of the U.N. structures, including the
temporary ones where workers will be housed for several years.
"The organization's vulnerable to attacks, everywhere,"
Kisambira said. "We need to know what risks we are facing."
The staff union has adopted several resolutions demanding a
risk assessment, but those have been ignored, he said.
Although the main U.N. facilities in the United States,
Vienna and Geneva are widely considered to be secure, there
have been high-profile attacks on U.N. buildings elsewhere,
prompting a tightening of security at U.N. sites worldwide.
In December 2007, a car bombing at the U.N. building in
Algiers killed at least 41 people, among them 17 U.N. staff. In
2003, 15 staff and seven others were killed by a bomb attack at
the U.N. building in Baghdad.
(Editing by Eric Beech)