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UNEP: Plans to Clean Up Toxic Sites in Iraq

UN Environmental Agency Outlines Plans to Clean Up Highly Toxic Sites in Iraq

New York, Nov 10 2005 2:00PM

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today announced plans to clean up an industrial site in Iraq believed to hold several tonnes of an acutely toxic compound that is lethal at a dose of less than one gram, after being bombed, looted and randomly demolished during and following the war which began in 2003.

The highly polluted Al Qadissiya metal-plating facility south of Baghdad is one of five priority sites studied by Iraqi experts under a UNEP-managed project and detailed in a new report, Assessment of Environmental 'Hotspots' in Iraq, also released today. The six-month clean-up, for which $900,000 have been secured, may start next month.

"If the country is to have a brighter and less risky future it is incumbent on the international community to help the authorities there deal with these pollution hot spots – a good and positive example of capacity building and technology support," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said.

There is concern that children entering Al Qadissiya could be exposed via the skin or by accidental ingestion. The report concluded that the most pressing issue at the site, a complex of metal-plating and machining units for products including small arms, are the dispersed piles of sodium cyanide pellets used in hardening small arms such as rifles.

It said the five sites, among a list of 50 presented to the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment for selection, were likely to be the tip of the iceberg in terms of environmental hot spots. Overall, close to $40 million is needed to meet the report's recommendations in full, including cleaning contaminated oil industry sites and setting up a hazardous waste treatment facility.

In previous such operations, for example in the Balkans and Afghanistan, the agency's Post Conflict Assessment Branch did its own sampling and field studies, but the security situation in Iraq precluded direct work by a UNEP team and 30 Iraqis from various ministries were trained for the job, with the samples tested at laboratories in Europe.

The four other priority sites are:

  • Al Suwaira Pesticide Warehouses, containing a range of substances including mercury, zinc and calcium compounds, organo-chlorine and organo-phosphorous substances like Lindane, Heptachlor and DDT, which was looted after the war, with containers smashed and pesticides spread around the buildings.

  • Khan Dhari Petrochemicals Warehouse, west of Baghdad, which contained several thousand tons of refinery chemicals until it was looted and partially burned down in March 2003.

  • Al Mishraq Sulphur Mining Complex, south of Mosul, one of the world's largest sulphur mines, where up to 300,000 tons of stockpiled sulphur were burned in a catastrophic fire in June, 2003.

  • Ouireej Military Scrap Yard, a planned residential area 15 kilometres south of Baghdad, which in 2003 became a main dumping and processing site for military scrap and destroyed Iraqi weapons.

The assessments of the five sites were conducted in April and funded by a contribution from the Japanese Government to the UN Development Group's Iraqi Trust Fund earmarked for UNEP.


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