DCN ARCHIVES

March 17, 2005

Hidden above false ceilings

Experts say Paris skyscraper contaminated with asbestos

PARIS

One of Europe’s tallest skyscrapers, considered by some a steel-and-glass eyesore towering above Paris’ scrupulously preserved low-rise skyline, is again making headlines: Experts say its 60 floors are full of cancer-causing asbestos.

News that Montparnasse Tower, a magnet for tourists looking for panoramic views of the City of Light, has asbestos hidden above false ceilings and in a shaft housing cables and elevators was revealed Sunday by the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

By Monday, the tower’s contamination was front-page news in several dailies — reviving memories of the ruckus surrounding its construction on the Left Bank between 1969 and 1972.

Media reports said tower managers have not decided how to treat the problem but are mulling two options: a full evacuation for at least three years or a 10-year process that would allow the building to stay open during the asbestos removal.

Alain Carrey, an engineer representing companies at the tower, said the asbestos represents “really zero’’ risk to the 600,000 tourists visiting the building each year.

Claude Bauchot, the president of tower management company Cogetom, said only the four floors with high levels of asbestos presented any health danger.

“In the rest of the tower, we do not have a situation that necessitates work,’’ he told reporters. “There’s no risk in all the areas that are usually used in the tower.’’

Critics have long said that the 210-metre tower’s steely, modernistic style clashed with Paris’ elegant Haussmann buildings of cream-coloured Lutecian limestone.

The tower, which houses offices and a shopping centre and soars above a train station frequented by millions of travellers, was something of an exception.

Today, the French capital’s skyline is protected by a law limiting building heights to 37 metres. High-rises largely have been consigned to the La Defence business district west of the city.

Serge Jullineau, head of the inspection company Health Risks Agency, which analyzed the tower’s asbestos levels in the mid-1990s, said four floors were rated Level 3 risks for asbestos — the highest assessment. They house technical facilities closed to the public but not to maintenance workers.

“At every maintenance operation or diverse work that requires moving the drop ceilings, there is a potential risk for occupants’’ on some floors, Jullineau told Europe-1 radio.

The tower’s problems were a haunting reminder of a catastrophe that hit the Jussieu university campus, also on the Left Bank, after asbestos was discovered in numerous buildings.

At least six people at the campus have died of asbestos-related illnesses and more than 100 are ill, according to Michel Ledoux, lawyer for the Association for the Defence of Asbestos Victims.

In January, the two universities and an institute that share the campus were placed under investigation — a step short of being charged — for “endangering others.’’

The Associated Press

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