UN, Construction Accidents and Fire Hazards Subject to Secret
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, July 31 -- The day after the UN's
Capital Master Plan sealed
off an area in front of the Security Council balcony with red
"Asbestos" tape and then afterwards quickly declared the
area safe, CMP chief Michael Adlerstein barred the Press from a "Town
Hall" meeting about the plan and safety.
Adlerstein, when Inner
City Press was previously blocked from covering such a meeting,
promised to allow entry in the future. But on July 31 he shrugged and
his spokesman argued that the offer had been only for the next
meeting, and that the presence of the Press would change the
has been provided with several blow by blow accounts of the meeting.
The fallen ceiling and testing for asbestos was raised. But another
controversy, which perhaps explains Adlerstein's desire for secrecy,
was an incident discussed in which concrete hit a workman on the UN
construction site in the head. This was written up as a violation,
along with the UN's general contractor Skanska blocking access to the
Siamese connection carried water to put out fires.
concerned UN staff that Skanska is appealing. The staff, at least as
sampled by Inner City Press, were not convinced. Adlerstein was asked
to put on the UN's web site all information about violations. He said
he would check with the Office of Legal Affairs. Given his exclusion
of the press and public from his "Town Hall" meetings,
Internet posting of safety violations seems unlikely.
grilled about bad conditions in the UN's "swing space" in
the Albano Building on 46th Street. Russian staffers of the
Department of General Services and Conference Management complained
of freezing air being thrust upon them from badly designed vents
directly above their workplaces.
City Press was invited and
confirmed this, as well as the lack of air conditioning at the Arabic
DGACM unit lower down in the Albano Building. One wag jokes that this
was a form of profiling, and that the Arabic group, if and when the
UN compound is finally fixed, are not assured of a right of return.
messengers' unit, meanwhile, says it is forced to work in cramped
quarters with the whole Albano unit using a single toilet, and
without access to the various floors of the Albano Building which
they need to visit or service. Inner City Press' invited visit
reveals some floors with fire doors blocked or taped open, others
sealed up tight. Some complained that when Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon visited this week, he went to only two floors. The issues
raised at Friday's closed door meeting and below, these staffers say,
are not understood or taken seriously by Ban Ki-moon.
UN's Ban in hard hat, workman hit in head and
short walls not shown
complaint was the lack of sound proofing cutting into the ability top
work. This is a theme with Adlerstein, who along with Department of
Management chief Angela Kane is insisting on changing a previously
commitment to the UN correspondents that their "swing space"
would be similar to what they have, with the ability to make phone
calls and, in the case of investigative journalism endeavors like
Inner City Press, to meet confidentially with whistleblowers.
Kane and Ban's advisors have decreed that walls will be only seven
feet tall, and paper thin at that. In an attempt to divide and
conquer, wire services will be able to request taller walls after a
week, while other media like Inner City Press and the Washington Post
-- which is mulling closing its long time UN bureau, as Inner City
Press exclusively reported, as picked up by the Daily Beast -- can
only make such a request after four months in a "Whistleblower
City Press' visit on July 30 -- after a demand
to delete a photograph of the police taped "Asbestos" zone
on the floor -- to Adlerstein's office in the basement under the
library found that he has full floor to ceiling walls, hard and sound
proof. Secrecy reigns at the UN, with safety and sanity seeming to
take a back seat. Watch this site.
* * *
UN, Belated Asbestos Warning by Fallen Ceiling, Photograph's Deletion
Matthew Russell Lee
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.
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
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
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
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
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."
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
fashion that the fallen ceiling on the third floor has been handled.
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.
* * *
UN, With Asbestos Unsealed in Library, Interpreters Fight UN Capital
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
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.
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.
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,
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.
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."
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
Entrance to UN Libary, notice says "Call 311," the City of New York's #
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
litigation against both ATC and general contractor Skanska. She
Adlerstein would hold a Town Hall meeting with staff on May 29. Video here,
from Minute 15:33.
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.
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