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Date:04/12/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2005/12/04/stories/2005120406501000.htm

National

UNEP to launch operation clean-up in Baghdad

Special Correspondent

An assessment of hotspots is presented to Iraqi Ministry

  • Cyanide wastes to be removed, stored and treated
  • Details contained in report presented to Iraqi Ministry
  • Destruction of Iraqi military arsenal creating new contamination

    NEW DELHI: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will shortly launch an operation clean-up in a highly polluted industrial site south of Baghdad.

    The Al Quadissiya metal plating facility has been found to contain numerous hazardous wastes including several tonnes of cyanide compounds. The six-month programme will entail removing, storing and treating cyanide wastes to reduce public health risks considered "severe".

    Five other sites, details of which are in the report `Assessment of Environmental Hotspots in Iraq', are among a list of 50 presented to the country's Environment Ministry. Part of $900,000 available for cleaning up the Al Quadissiya site may also be used to detoxify the Al Suwaira pesticide warehouse complex, 50 km southeast of Baghdad. Pesticide pollution there is also considered a potential public health risk.

    The report warns that destruction of military arsenal is creating new contamination and hazardous waste problems at scrapyards and munitions dumps, which could be better managed with better working practices and basic planning.

    There are also recommendations covering the oil industry's contaminated sites and a suggestion for establishment of a hazardous waste treatment facility. Overall close to $40 million is needed to meet the recommendations in full, according to the UNEP.

    The assessment of the five sites was conducted in April 2005 with a contribution from the Japanese government to the United Nations Development Group's Iraqi Trust Fund earmarked for the UNEP. These are the Al Quadissiya metal plating facility, built in the 1980s on 50 hectares on a flat plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

    Piles of cyanide pellets

    During 2003 the facility was damaged in ground and air strikes and following the conflict "comprehensively and repetitively looted". Piles of sodium cyanide pellets are lying dispersed. The chemical was used in the hardening process for small arms such as rifles.

    Several tonnes of the acutely toxic compound, lethal at a dose less than one gram, is believed to be at the site.

    There is concern that children entering the site could be exposed by skin contact or accidental ingestion.

    The four-hectare Al Suwaira complex, 1.5 km north of the town of Al Suwaira, was used to store, mix and dispatch a range of pesticides for 30 years. These included mercury, zinc and calcium compounds as well as organo-chlorine and organo-phosphorous substances such as lindane, heptachlor and DDT.

    After March 2003, the complex was looted leading to smashing of containers and pesticides spreading around the buildings.

    The site is now secured, keeping trespassers out.

    The UNEP proposes to decontaminate the site, vacuuming pesticide wastes and spraying warehouses to neutralise residues.

    The Khan Dhari Petrochemicals Warehouse facility, 30 km west of Baghdad, contained several thousand tonnes of refinery chemicals until it was looted and partially burnt down in March 2003.

    The Al Mishraq Sulphur Mining complex, 50 km south of Mosul, is one of the world's largest sulphur mines. In June 2003 a fire burnt up to 3,00,000 tonnes of stocks.

    The last site is the Ouireej military scrapyard, 15 km south of Baghdad, which became the main dumping and processing site for military scrap and destroyed Iraqi weapons.

    Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu

    http://www.hindu.com/2005/12/04/stories/2005120406501000.htm

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