Nerve gas found at United Nations building
Six to eight vials discovered
Posted: August 30, 2007
The United Nations building
United Nations weapons inspectors discovered six to eight vials
of a dangerous nerve gas, phosgene, as they were cleaning out
offices at a U.N. building in New York Thursday morning.
Officials say the vials were probably taken from Iraq's main
chemical weapons facility 11 years ago.
"There is no immediate risk or danger," U.N. deputy
spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
She said there was no evacuation of the office of the U.N.
Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission known as
UNMOVIC, about a block north of U.N. headquarters on Manhattan's
east side, and U.S. authorities were called in to dispose of
Okabe said one of the substances, identified Wednesday, was
phosgene suspended in oil, "whose present state is unknown
but which could be potentially hazardous."
Phosgene can be used as a chemical weapon, and was used extensively
in World War I, as a choking agent. Both phosgene gas and liquid
can damage skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan said the phosgene was in liquid
form, suspended in the oil, in a soda-can-sized container. It
was found in a sealed plastic bag that included "unknown
liquid substances contained in metal and glass containers ranging
in size from small vials to tubes the length of a pen,"
"The only information we have of the contents of that
bag is from an inventory of a 1996 inspection, which indicates
that one of the items may contain phosgene, an old generation
chemical warfare agent," Okabe said.
Okabe said the material was immediately secured by UNMOVIC
experts and the U.N. sought assistance from U.S. authorities
in having the material safely removed. The U.N. was informed
that the FBI was going to the office Thursday to remove and
dispose of the material, she said.
"The office area was screened using UNOMVIC's chemical
weapons detection equipment. No toxic vapors were found. There
is no immediate risk or danger. UNMOVIC staff are still working
on the premises," Okabe said.
Buchanan said a second sealed package contained tiny samples
of chemical agents in sealed glass tubes shaped like pens that
are used by inspectors to identify chemical agents. Each of
these reference standards contained less than a gram of chemical
material, he said.
Buchanan said the material was discovered August 24, put in
double zip-locked bags, and locked in a safe in a room that
is double-locked. The only marking on the material was an inventory
number, he said.
UNMOVIC has 1,400 linear feet of files and it took until Wednesday
to find the inventory the number matched which indicated that
the material was from Iraq's main chemical weapons facility
at Muthana, near Samarra.
The State Department said it had learned of the discovery late
Wednesday and had immediately contacted the FBI to deal with
Former U.N. weapons inspectors told ABCNews.com that vials
of phosgene had also been used by inspectors in Iraq to help
calibrate air sampling instruments.
The former inspectors said the remaining vials were supposed
to have been destroyed.
"If it is properly sealed, it should not pose much of
a threat unless it is dropped," said former New York City
emergency services director Jerry Hauer, an ABC News consultant.
"They need to get it out of there and put it in a safe
canister," Hauer said. "It shows immense stupidity
to have that kind of thing sitting around as a souvenir."
According to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control,
phosgene at room temperature is a poisonous, colorless gas with
a suffocating odor like newly mown hay.
Article at: abclocal.go.com