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UNEP identifies DU risks in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nairobi, Sarajevo/Banja Luka, 15 November 2002 - The UNEP team used highly sensitive instruments to measure surface radioactivity at 14 sites. These measurements revealed the presence of radioactive "hot spots" and pieces of DU weapons at three sites - the Hadzici tank repair facility, the Hadzici ammunition storage area and the Han Pijesak barracks.

"Following a request by the Council of Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina UNEP is carrying out this scientific assessment," said Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of UNEP. "Seven years after the conflict, DU still remains an environmental concern and therefore it is vital that we have the scientific facts, based upon which we can give clear recommendations how to minimize any risk."

"We are concerned about the situation at the Hadzici tank repair facility and the Han Pijesak barracks," said Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of UNEP DU projects. "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."

"Before using any DU targeted building there should always be proper clean-up. When people are working in buildings that have not been de-contaminated, unnecessary risks are being taken, and therefore we will discuss with the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities the need for de-contamination inside the buildings currently in use as a first precautionary step. Such a job should be carried out by experts," said Mr. Haavisto.

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 Civil Protection Authorities of BiH 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 two recommended precautionary measures of de-contaminating the targeted buildings and educating the public are consistent with those proposed in UNEP's earlier DU studies in Serbia & Montenegro and Kosovo.

In addition to the 14 sites that were examined the team could not to enter one site due to safety concerns over nearby mines.

The 17-member UNEP team included experts from UNEP, the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority (SSI), Spiez Laboratory (Switzerland), Italy's Environmental Protection Agency and Technical Services (APAT, former ANPA), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Greek Atomic Energy Commission, the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine (USACHPPM), the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Bristol (UK).

The BiH Ministry for European Integration hosted the UNEP team. Local scientists also joined the team on different occasions. The team received local support from the United Nations Mission to BiH (UNMIBH), the BiH Mine Action Center (MAC) and NATO/SFOR.

The team took almost 200 environmental samples, including 47 surface soil samples, three full soil profiles, three penetrators, one full DU bullet, four smear samples, 24 air samples, 42 water samples, 19 lichen samples, and three bark, two moss, one mushroom and two vegetable samples.

The samples collected will be analyzed for radioactivity and toxicity at three internationally recognized laboratories - Spiez Laboratory (Switzerland), APAT (Italy) and Bristol University (UK).

A medical sub-team composed of the experts from WHO and the US Army Center (USACHPPM) visited three hospitals and examined medical data and statistics in the BiH Federation and BiH Republika Srpska. The sub-team stayed in close contact with both Ministries of Health (Srpska and Federation) and received their full support.

In parallel to the medical sub-team, the IAEA expert assessed the overall situation on radioactive sources in BiH. This included regulations on handling, radioactive sources in use and storage of radioactive wastes.

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.

Note to journalists: For more information, please contact Mr. Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of UNEP DU Projects, +41-79-477 08 77, pekka.haavisto@unep.ch, Eric Falt, Spokesperson, +254 (0)20-623 292 or Michael Williams on phone +41-22-9178242, +41-79-409-1528 (cell), . See also http://postconflict.unep.ch/