Asbestos Concerns at Tokyo and Paris Olympics

In 2017, officials in Japan cited asbestos-containing products in two Olympic locations. According to a Japanese press report, one of the locations includes the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center, a venue for men’s and women’s water polo at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Asbestos exposure can cause malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive and deadly form of cancer. Limited treatment options are available for patients with mesothelioma. Many countries, including Japan, have banned the use of asbestos in construction.

Olympic organizers promised to take measures to eliminate the toxic insulation in an attempt to protect participants. Recent reports, however, indicate the carcinogen remains in preparation for the Olympic games.

Japanese Officials Confident the Swimming Facility is Safe

Although Japanese law requires the removal of asbestos via large-scale renovations, the building did not undergo expensive removal. Tokyo authorities are confident that parts of the building containing the asbestos are not accessible to the public.

The swimming complex, located in the Kōtō ward of Tokyo, was completed in 1993 by the Tokyo architecture firm Environment Design Institute. The spray-on asbestos insulation was used in the swimming center’s roof. According to Tokyo government officials, the amount of asbestos did not require removal and deemed the structure safe for use in the Summer Olympics.

The use of asbestos in Japan was fully banned in 2012, though the government began gradually eliminating the carcinogen since 2004.

Asbestos Exposure Not a New Threat at Olympics

As past Olympic Games have come and gone, concerns for asbestos exposure have occurred. Hosting the Olympics requires expensive construction and remodeling of buildings to host athletic teams from over 200 countries.

The 2012 London Olympics sparked protest when a basketball training facility was constructed on top of a previous asbestos-filled landfill used after World War II. A judge ultimately issued an injunction that would keep the protesters off the site so construction could continue. The structure was completed and the games went on as normal.

Tokyo Olympics Spark Concerns For Future Games

Reports of possible asbestos exposure at the Tokyo Olympics have sparked concerns for future Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Paris is set to host the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games throughout multiple key sites. 

To keep up with the need for transportation for the next Olympics, Paris is constructing a new metro line as part of the Grand Paris Express project to expand the Paris metro network. The multi-billion euro expansion project will run from the Athlete Village in the northern part of Paris to the suburbs that will host many events. The new metro line will also serve as a new transportation option for the capital’s impoverished suburbs.

Although French President Emmanuel Macron promises the construction will be complete in time for the Olympics, the removal of asbestos has delayed construction. The head of the Grand Paris Express, Jean-François Monteils, fears the project may face some challenges in time.

The delay is partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulty of getting technicians to operate tunnel-boring machines. Some fear the construction delay might put asbestos removal at low priority to finish the project on time.

Monteils is confident that everything, including asbestos removal, will be finished on time.

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