Issue Date: September 17, 2007
UN Chemicals Therapy
The United Nations has set up a panel of experts to investigate how a material initially thought to be phosgene—now thought to be a solvent—turned up in a UN weapons inspection office in New York 11 years after it was removed from Iraq. A report to the UN secretary-general is expected by the end of October.
On Aug. 24, while archiving material, officials in the office of the UN Monitoring, Verification & Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) uncovered two plastic bags with unlabeled contents. One bag held glass vials, the other a metal bottle.
Both bags carried a reference number that, five days later, officials traced to inventory records indicating that the vials were nuclear magnetic resonance reference standards and that the metal bottle contained COCl2, the chemical formula for the choking agent phosgene.
As UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan explains, the material in the bags was from a 1996 UN inspection of Iraq's main chemical weapons production facility in Muthanna province, about 80 km from Baghdad. That inspection also uncovered a slew of documents, and Buchanan "assumes" the bags "came back to the U.S. with all the documents."
Buchanan said the plastic bags were "immediately secured." A hazardous materials squad from the New York Police Department removed the bags on Aug. 30 and sent them to the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center for analysis. Paul J. Browne, NYPD's deputy commissioner, tells C&EN that his department "was informed on Aug. 31 that initial tests indicated a commercial solvent."
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