Asbestos alert fails to disturb ministerial calm

August 15, 1997

Asbestos watchdogs at Jussieu university campus in Paris have protested against the involvement of the education minister in the biggest decontamination programme in Europe.

The university's anti-asbestos committee has complained that membership of the advisory body overseeing the project "reveals a determination to restrict and control the voice of the key players".

Its main objection is that one third of the seats on the body have gone to the Institut de Physique du Globe on an equal footing with the two universities which share the campus, even though the institute accounts for only 3 per cent of the campus population.

That decision has enraged the campaigners because France's new education minister, Claude All gre, is director of the institute and has a record of voicing strong criticism of the anti-asbestos campaign.

Twice in the months preceding France's recent general election, Mr All gre dismissed fears about asbestos on the campus as "irrational" and as "a dangerous psychosis".

The chairman of the anti-asbestos committee, mathematics lecturer Michel Parigot, has called for the planned clean-up of the Paris campus to be removed from Mr All gre's responsibility, because he was "the only member of the government to oppose the operation".

President Jacques Chirac last year promised funds for the removal of asbestos from Jussieu, Europe's largest contaminated site, where an academic and an office worker have contracted asbestosis.

Responding to doubts about his neutrality on the issue raised immediately after his appointment, the new minister acknowledged that asbestos was a problem.

But Mr Allegre added that there was "a much more serious problem", which was that "the university has not been maintained and now we have fallen below safety levels for fire and even for the stability of the buildings".

Pressed to say whether he would tackle the problem of asbestos in universities, he answered: "We are not going to hunt down asbestos. We are going to renovate and thereby at the same time resolve the asbestos problem."

The anti-asbestos committee appears to be fighting a losing battle on its demand that the campus be cleaned up and returned to use by the same universities. Paris VII University has long made it clear it would rather take the opportunity to leave Jussieu.

That position now has the backing of all the Paris university presidents.

They have issued a joint appeal for Paris VII University to leave the Jussieu campus for a site next to the new national library and for that site to be developed as a new Latin quarter.

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