LONDON — A simmering row over the choice of PVC-coated polyester to roof a massive dome housing Britain's Millennium Exhibition has been fanned by Greenpeace threats to disrupt the dome's construction.
Calling the dome plan ``a poisonous project,'' the environmental group has declared in a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair: ``We are committed to stopping this dome of doom.''
The dome, to cover 585,000 square feet of ground area and with a 1,040-foot diameter, is a tent-style structure touted as the biggest of its type in the world. The turn-of-the-century project, known as the Millennium Experience, will include 487,000 square feet of PVC-coated polyester panel roofing, according to exhibition operator New Millennium Experience Co. Ltd.
New Millennium Experience argues that PVC-coated polyester is the safest, most-suitable tried-and-tested roofing material. The company added that Greenpeace has failed in six months to propose a viable, proven alternative material.
In its letter to Blair, sent prior to the government decision to back the £590 million ($985 million) exhibition project, Greenpeace called PVC ``a 20th century mistake,'' and repeated its frequent claims that PVC produces dioxin, cannot be recycled and is recognized as a fire hazard.
``Nothing could be a worse representation of our hopes for the future than this toxic plastic throwaway monster,'' concludes the letter, signed by Lord Melchett, Greenpeace U.K. executive director.
In spite of the complaints, Blair has fully endorsed the project being constructed on a 300-acre peninsula beside the Thames River in Greenwich, a borough of London. The 130-acre exhibition site will clean up the site of an old gas works, derelict for 20 years, and will include parks and lakes, according to the operator.
NMEC has appointed Koch Hightex of Munich, Germany, to supply and erect the plastic roof of the £40 million ($66.8 million) dome. Koch Hightex, which has global experience in the construction of similar structures, including sports stadiums in Malaysia and Stuttgart, Germany, is due to complete the roof erection by late next summer, according to NMEC.
A company spokesman said NMEC set out to maintain a strongly environmentalist policy in the venture and has tied strict monitoring conditions to all construction contracts.
Greenpeace offered three alternatives for the roof material: cotton canvas, silicone-coated glass fiber, and polyolefin-coated polyester.
The spokesman said cotton canvas loses its fire-retardant qualities if used externally, and the others are technically unsuitable materials, without a proven construction track record, and not recommended for such a use by their manufacturers.
The company suggested one alternative, polytetrafluorethylene-coated glass fiber, although, it said, the material is more complex and expensive to manufacture. But Greenpeace rejected that option because it claimed its production uses chlorofluorocarbons and hydrogenated CFCs.
The NMEC spokesman said time is now short in meeting the strict millennium deadline and NMEC has not had time to fully test new, untried materials.
He also disputed Greenpeace's complaints about PVC. Some 22 million pounds of PVC were recycled in Britain in 1995. He pointed to reports by Britain's Fire Brigades Union and the London Fire Brigade that said the roof material would not contribute to a fire.
Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson, the British government minister responsible for the millennium project, issued a statement assuring the environmentalists that ``if the roof is eventually disposed of, disposal will take place in high-temperature incinerators which meet European Union standards on emissions.'' No dioxins are released in such disposal, he added.
Mandelson stated that the roof will not contain lead, cadmium or ``any estrogen-mimicking plasticizers,'' contrary to Greenpeace's claims.
``The clear conclusion, on the basis of objective scientific evidence and expert advice, is that PVC is the safest and strongest option,'' Mandelson said.