UN agency identifies risks from depleted uranium used during Bosnia conflict

UN agency identifies risks from depleted uranium used during Bosnia conflict

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After investigating 15 sites in Bosnia and Herzegovina that were targeted with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) during the mid-1990s, a team of experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified areas at greatest risk.

Using highly sensitive instruments to measure surface radioactivity at 14 sites, UNEP confirmed the presence of radioactive "hot spots" and pieces of DU weapons at three locations - the Hadzici tank repair facility, the Hadzici ammunition storage area and the Han Pijesak barracks.

A byproduct of nuclear power which has been used for heavy tank armour, anti-tank munitions, missiles and projectiles, the substance has 60 per cent of the radioactivity of natural uranium and "significant chemical toxicity," according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

The head of the UNEP team, Pekka Haavisto, voiced concern about the situation at the Hadzici tank repair facility and the Han Pijesak barracks. "The UNEP team detected DU-related materials and DU dust inside buildings that are currently used by local businesses or, in the case of Han Pijesak, by troops as storage facilities," he said.

Mr. Haavisto noted that any DU-targeted building must be properly cleaned before being used. "When people are working in buildings that have not been decontaminated, unnecessary risks are being taken, and, therefore, we will discuss with the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities the need for decontamination inside the buildings currently in use as a first precautionary step," he said. "Such a job should be carried out by experts."

The UNEP team found that the general public is not aware of what DU ammunition looks like and the dangers it can pose. UNEP will discuss with the national civil protection authorities the possibility of offering de-mining personnel, other local authorities involved in DU work, and interested members of the public with an easy-to-read flyer on the issue of DU ammunition in the environment.

The team took almost 200 environmental samples to be analyzed for radioactivity and toxicity at laboratories in Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom

The UNEP DU assessment is funded by the Governments of Italy and Switzerland. The final results will be published in a UNEP report in March 2003.