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At UN, Belated Asbestos Warning by Fallen Ceiling, Photograph's Deletion Demanded

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 30 -- For days on the UN's third floor a patch of fallen ceiling has been roped off with yellow police tape. Still, on July 29 Inner City Press witnessed families with strollers walking feet away from the police tape, touring the UN. On July 30, seeing a workman with what appeared to be a gas mask on probing at the ceiling with standing on a ladder, Inner City Press took a photograph.

An official of the UN Capital Master Plan rushed over to Inner City Press and asked why the photograph was taken. The safety measures used by the UN workman, under a ceiling hole by while unprotected visitors and children passed only a day earlier, seemed of potential news value. The official went back over to the roped off area and returned with the workman. "You have to delete the picture," the workman said. "You took it without my permission." He grabbed for the camera.

   Inner City Press pulled back and explained that since the UN is a public institution, the work done with public money, in an area with even outside visitors were permitted less then 24 hours earlier, the photograph would not be deleted. The workman retorted that he is not a UN employee but rather a contractor. (Click here for Inner City Press' previous exclusive story about the UN's asbestos contractor, ATC Associates which has been hit for Clean Air Act violations).

The Capital Master Plan official escorted Inner City Press down to the office of the CMP in the basement of the UN's library, to speak with CMP director Michael Adlerstein.

Tour of UN with roped off area and kids, July 29, 2009
In front of his ample office with its views of the East River, a receptionist asked, Is this about up there, the third floor? It's related, the official said.

Another receptionist said Mr. Adlerstein is in a meeting, Mr. Adlerstein can't be bothered. Inner City Press left a business card, if any legal reason for deleting such a photo existed.

UN workman, with protection, under same ceiling, July 30, 2009

Later on Thursday, to the yellow police tape around the work area, now with what appeared to be air testing machines buzzing, was added an additional red emergency tape with the word "ASBESTOS."

The context here is that the City of New York has already barred school children from being taken on tours of the UN"s Conference Building, including the third floor area at issue. It is not clear why children, including in strollers, still passed by the fallen ceiling on July 29. The CMP's many assurances that all asbestos work is being done in a safe manner appear to be called into question by the amateur and ad hoc fashion that the fallen ceiling on the third floor has been handled.

Adlerstein is slated to give a "Town Hall meeting" for UN Staff on July 31. After his spokesman excluded Inner City Press from a prior such meeting, Adlerstein told Inner City Press is can attempt future Town Hall meetings. Watch this site.

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At UN, With Asbestos Unsealed in Library, Interpreters Fight UN Capital Master Plan

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 -- At the UN, asbestos removal has begun in Headquarters library, with doors unsealed between the asbestos and where UN staff are working. While experts tell Inner City Press these conditions would not be accepted anywhere else in New York, or the United States, since the UN is international territory, the proximity of asbestos and unprotected workers has taken place this week.

   In a closed door meeting with UN interpreters concerned about conditions, the UN's and its contractors' defense is that workers are protected by "negative pressure." Some predict a boomerang-ing of this negative pressure against the asbestos removal.

It is part of the UN's Capital Master Plan, whose director Michael Adlerstein reported met last week with UN interpreters who are worried about working in the Security Council once the rest of the building is emptied out and the asbestos work is going on. The UN's asbestos contractor, ATC Associates which, as Inner City Press exclusively reported, has been hit for Clean Air Act violations, sent a representative named Roney Rivero to the meeting, who is reported to have said there is no link between asbestos and cancer, while speaking of negative pressure.

One interpreter who works in the Security Council, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fear of UN retaliation, predicted that while for now UN staff are subjected to asbestos, when it becomes clear to the member states' Permanent Representatives who serve on the Security Council, especially the Permanent Five, how the abatement and removal are being done, "there will be big changes. Even though we're there more than the Perm Reps, they're more sensitive, you know."

Meanwhile in the UN Library, where staff continues to work, asbestos removal has been done on the first and second floors, where the UN Staff Union complains that the abatement equipment remains stored, and where, they say, there is a film of dust on many surfaces. Asbestos work is slated for the third floor of the library this coming weekend.

Entrance to UN Libary, notice says "Call 311," the City of New York's #

   At the UN's noon briefing on May 28, Inner City Press asked Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe for the UN's response to its staff's concern about safety. Ms. Okabe said that Adlerstein and the UN have "every confidence" in those doing the work, despite the asbestos litigation against both ATC and general contractor Skanska. She said Adlerstein would hold a Town Hall meeting with staff on May 29. Video here, from Minute 15:33.

At his last "Town Hall" meeting, Adlerstein's spokesman had Inner City Press removed from the meeting, saying it was closed to Press coverage. After the meeting was over, Adlerstein said that the next Town Hall, Inner City Press could attend. We'll see.

Earlier, CMP's Adlerstein had claimed that asbestos related charges against the UN's general contractor, Skanska, has all been dropped. Later he conceded that a civil case remains ongoing against Skanska, from alleged deficiencies in asbestos work on a courthouse in California. Adlerstein also acknowledged that people injured by asbestos or Skanska will not be able to sue in U.S. court, but only to arbitrate. Could that explain the lax practices exhibited in the UN library this week?

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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