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By Suzanne Presto
New York
30 August 2007

FBI agents were called to a United Nation's building near the headquarters Thursday to remove vials of a possibly hazardous material found in weapons inspectors' offices.  From VOA's United Nation's bureau, Suzanne Presto reports U.N. officials say the substance poses no threat to the public.

Police officers stand by the UN Plaza where potentially hazardous chemical agents were discovered, 30 Aug. 2007
Police officers stand by the UN Plaza where potentially hazardous chemical agents were discovered, 30 Aug 2007

Members of the U.N. weapons inspection commission say, while archiving files in a U.N. office building last week, they came across a sealed metal box they thought contained only documents.  In it, they found a plastic bag with sealed tubes containing small amounts of an unknown liquid substance.

Officials say it was not until Wednesday that they realized they had a potentially deadly substance in their possession - phosgene, a chemical warfare agent, suspended in oil.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe says the liquid poses no immediate danger.  She says the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) has secured the substances.

"The office area was screened using UNMOVIC's chemical weapons detection equipment, and no toxic vapors were found," she said.

She says staff members are still working in the building where the substances were uncovered.

UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan says the vials may have been sitting in a box for more than a decade.

"They have come from an inspection in Iraq, certainly," he said.  "There was an inspection way back in 1996 when we basically dug to the bottom of the Al Muthanna chemical weapons production facility and these materials probably came from the analytical laboratory of the Muthanna chemical weapons plant."

U.N. officials say security personnel have cordoned off the room where the substances were found.  A security officer is stationed there, and the FBI is disposing of the potentially hazardous agents.

Buchanan says staffers had no idea such materials were in their office cabinets.

"It was assumed to be all documents," he added.  "And in amongst the documents was this particular package."

Buchanan says such items are usually transported directly to appropriately equipped laboratories.

"This kind of material should certainly not have come here, that is true," he explained.  "It should have gone to a laboratory for analysis or destruction or whatever."

An UNMOVIC official said staffers immediately searched the rest of the archives and did not uncover any other potentially hazardous materials.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has notified the Security Council.  The U.N. says the matter will be investigated.

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