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UNEP samples from depleted uranium sites in Kosovo now being analysed in five laboratories

Geneva, 5 January 2001 - Rigorous analyses of depleted uranium (DU) samples collected by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during its 5 - 17 November 2000 field assessment mission to Kosovo are now underway in five European laboratories in an effort to determine whether the use of DU during the Balkans conflict may pose any risks to human health or the environment.

The UNEP field mission visited 11 of the 112 sites that were identified as being targeted by ordnance containing depleted uranium, including five in the Italian sector (MNB (W)) and six in the German sector (MNB (S)).

The work was carried out in close cooperation with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR), which assisted with logistics, accommodation, transport and security. The UNEP team, consisting of 14 scientists from several countries, collected soil, water, and vegetation samples and conducted smear tests on buildings, destroyed army vehicles, and DU penetrators.

Remnants of DU ammunition were found at eight sites. Altogether, 340 samples are being analyzed, including 247 soil samples, 45 water samples, 30 vegetation samples, 10 smear tests, five sabots, two penetrators, and one penetrator fragment. (Penetrators and sabots are specialized parts of ordnance.)

"When we finalized the Balkans Task Force report on the environmental effects of the Kosovo conflict last year, there was insufficient data available to address the issue of depleted uranium," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director. "In response to a request from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UNEP, NATO provided us in mid-2000 with the exact coordinates of the target sites, enabling our team to make proper measurements of DU sites in Kosovo," he said. "UNEP's aim is to determine whether the use of DU during the conflict may pose health or environmental risks - either now or in the future," concluded Mr. Toepfer.

The samples are being analyzed for both radioactivity and toxicity by the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute (SSI) in Stockholm; AC Laboratorium-Spiez in Switzerland; Bristol University's Department of Earth Sciences in the UK; the International Atomic Energy Agency Laboratories (IAEA) in Seibersdorf, Austria; and the Italian National Environmental Protection Agency (ANPA) in Rome, Italy.

The assessment work on depleted uranium has been financed by the Government of Switzerland. The results of the tests will be ready in early March 2001, when UNEP will publish a full report of its findings. In addition, UNEP has been in contact with authorities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in order to plan a similar field mission to Serbia and Montenegro, where a number of the 112 NATO-identified DU sites are located. This mission is being planned for the coming spring.

UNEP recommends precautionary action "Out of the 11 sites visited, the team found three sites with no signs of higher radioactivity, nor any remnants of DU ammunition. At eight sites, the team found either slightly higher amounts of Beta-radiation immediately at or around the holes left by DU ammunition, or pieces and remnants of ammunition, such as sabots and penetrators," said Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the UNEP DU Assessment Team and former Environment Minister of Finland. "For the UNEP team it was surprising to find remnants of DU ammunition just lying on the ground, one-and-a-half years after the conflict," Mr. Haavisto noted. "Also, the ground directly beneath the DU ammunition was slightly contaminated. For this reason, we paid special attention to the risks that uranium toxicity might pose to the ground waters around the sites."

Although the final conclusions of the scientific assessment can only be made after the laboratory results are available, the UNEP team believes that its preliminary findings call for precautions to be taken when dealing with penetrators and sabots found at the identified sites and near other locations where such ammunition might be present. A number of such precautionary recommendations are spelled out in the Depleted Uranium Desk Assessment, published in October 1999.

The final report due in March 2001 will contain more detailed recommendations.

Note to journalists: For more information, please contact:
UNEP Spokesperson Mr. Tore Brevik at 00254-2-623292,
the Chairman of the UNEP Depleted Uranium Assessment Team, Mr. Pekka Haavisto,
at +358-40-588 4720
Henrik Slotte, UNEP Balkans Unit, at +41-22-9178598
Michael Williams at +41-22-9178242

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