UN environmental agency outlines
plans to clean up highly toxic sites in Iraq
10 November 2005 – 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
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.