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Monday, Mar 14, 2005
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Only skyscraper in Paris, popular with tourists, has dangerous asbestos levels

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The Montparnasse Tower in Paris Monday. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
PARIS (AP) - Experts have discovered varying levels of cancer-causing asbestos on all 60 floors of Paris' Montparnasse Tower, one of Europe's tallest skyscrapers.

Each year, some 600,000 tourists visit the tower for a panoramic view of Paris, and an estimated 5,000 people work there.

News that the tower, which dominates the city's southern skyline, had asbestos hidden above false ceilings and, especially, in a shaft housing cables, elevators and the like, was disclosed Sunday by the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

However, it was apparently an open secret for several years for those involved in the tower's management and experts who conducted risk studies.

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Four floors of the building containing technical facilities and closed to the public were rated "level three" risks for asbestos - the highest, according to Serge Jullineau, head of the inspection company Health Risks Agency which analysed the tower's asbestos levels in the mid-1990s.

Jullineau told the Monday edition of the newspaper Le Parisien that, as things stand, special protective measures are "indispensable" for 4,000 types of maintenance operations.

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Overall, the risks today are "minimal," Jullineau says, but likely to worsen in coming years.

"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 on Sunday.

Experts quoted Monday by the French news media said two possibilities exist to treat the tower: a full evacuation for at least three years or a 10-year process that would allow the site to stay open during the asbestos removal.

Asbestos, banned in France, was often used in the past to provide insulation in buildings or ships.

The discovery of asbestos in buildings on a Paris university campus caused a scandal in the past. Eight years later, only a portion of the buildings have been treated.

The Montparnasse Tower caused a ruckus when it was built, between 1969 and 1972, because it shot up above the traditional Paris skyline and diverged with the architectural landscape of the city. The building is now widely accepted.

The Canadian Press, 2005

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