|• UNEP March 2002: UNEP confirms low-level DU contamination in Serbia and Montenegro, calls for precaution
• UNEP 2003: UNEP Recommends Studies of Depleted Uranium in Iraq
• United Nations Environment Programme Recommends Precautionary Action Regarding Depleted Uranium In Kosovo
UNEP confirms low-level DU contamination in Serbia and Montenegro, calls for precaution:
UNEP PRESS ADVISORY: March 2002
Geneva, 27 March 2002 - A new study of six sites in Serbia and Montenegro that were struck by depleted uranium (DU) munitions during the 1999 Kosovo conflict confirms the presence at five sites of widespread, but low-level, DU contamination, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.
The UNEP study concludes that the DU sites studied do not present immediate radioactive or toxic risks for the environment or human health. These findings are consistent with those of UNEP's 2001 DU study in Kosovo. Together, the two studies cover the entire geographical area affected by DU munitions during the Kosovo conflict.
However, UNEP recommends that the authorities take precautionary measures. The most important concern is the potential for future groundwater contamination by corroding penetrators (ammunition tips made out of DU). The penetrators recovered by the UNEP team had decreased in mass by 10-15% due to corrosion. This rapid corrosion speed underlines the importance of monitoring the water quality at the DU sites on an annual basis.
A new finding of particular interest was the detection through modern air sampling techniques of airborne DU particles at two of the sites. While the detected levels were still below international safety limits, these results have implications for site decontamination and construction work, activities that could potentially stir up DU dust from the ground surface. In addition, the results indicate that DU dust was widely dispersed into the environment following the explosion of DU rounds.
The study was conducted in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with additional support from the World Health Organization (WHO).
"This new study makes an important contribution to our scientific understanding of DU's environmental behaviour," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "Even if the observed levels of contamination are low, we learn that particles of DU dust can even now be detected in soil samples and in sensitive biological indicators such as lichen."
"The UNEP study in Serbia and Montenegro confirms that contamination at the targeted sites is widespread. We did not find levels of radioactivity that could pose a direct threat to the environment or to human health. Nevertheless, we strongly recommend taking precautionary measures similar to those outlined in our Kosovo report last year," he said.
"The team was surprised to find DU particles still in the air two years after the conflict's end. Based on these findings, the authorities should carefully plan how DU-targeted sites are used in the future. Any soil disturbance at these sites could risk releasing DU particles into the air," said Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of the UNEP Depleted Uranium Assessment Team.
"Continued monitoring is clearly needed, and the local population should be informed about DU issues. Fortunately, although a complete clean-up may not be technically possible, decontamination operations have already started in both Serbia and Montenegro," he said.
UNEP sent a field mission to Serbia and Montenegro in late 2001 in response to an invitation from the Yugoslav authorities. From 27 October to 5 November 2001, the team of 14 international experts investigated five of the eleven sites that were struck with DU ordnance in Serbia, the single site that was hit in Montenegro plus one targeted military vehicle.
The sites were independently selected by the UNEP experts based on the quantity of DU used, environmental and security considerations and population density. In addition, the IAEA experts on the team evaluated the storage of DU at the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Belgrade, and the report raises a number of concerns about conditions there.
The assessment team collected 161 samples, including 69 vegetation, 54 soil, 17 air, 11 water, and 4 smear samples. Three penetrators and three penetrator fragments were also collected. The samples were analysed by Switzerland's Spiez laboratory and Italy's ANPA laboratory.
In addition to the key findings described above, the study report also noted that the DU sites had already been signposted and fenced off by the authorities, reflecting the recommendations made in UNEP's 2001 study; that the coordinates of one DU site identified by the Yugoslav authorities had not been provided to UNEP by NATO, highlighting the need for accurate and timely information on DU sites; that WHO found no evidence to link DU to the chromosome changes reported by Montenegrin authorities in six individuals who had worked on DU site decontamination for four months; and that it is very difficult to fully decontaminate DU sites.
The DU study was funded by the Government of Switzerland. Both Switzerland and Italy provided laboratory facilities for the analytical work. The governments of Greece, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US also provided in-kind support.
Note to journalists: The report is available at http://postconflict.unep.ch/. For more information, please contact UNEP Depleted Uranium Assessment Team Chairman Mr. Pekka Haavisto at +41-79-477-0877 or email@example.com; UNEP Spokesperson Mr. Tore Brevik at +254-2-623292 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Post-Conflict Unit Head Mr. Henrik Slotte at +41-22-917-8598; Senior Policy Advisor Mr. Pasi Rinne at +41-22-917-8617; or UNEP Press Officer Mr. Michael Williams at +41-22-917-8242, +41-79-409-1528 (cell), or email@example.com.
UNEP Recommends Studies of Depleted Uranium in Iraq:
UNEP NEWS RELEASE: 2003
Amman/Nairobi, 6 April 2003 – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is recommending that a scientific assessment of sites targeted with weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) be conducted in Iraq as soon as conditions permit.
UNEP-led field studies of sites struck by DU ordnance in the Balkans during the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s were the first international field assessments of how DU behaves in the environment.
“Although our assessments to date, under conditions prevailing in the Balkans, have concluded that DU contamination does not pose any immediate risks to human health or the environment, the fact remains that depleted uranium is still an issue of great concern for the general public,” said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer.
“An early study in Iraq could either lay these fears to rest or confirm that there are indeed potential risks, which could then be addressed through immediate action.”
“Based on its experience and expertise, UNEP stands ready to conduct DU assessments in Iraq in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other partners,” he said.
UNEP’s Post-Conflict Assessment Unit has published assessments of DU impacts in Kosovo (2001), Serbia and Montenegro (2002) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (2003).
The assessments were conducted with the participation of leading experts and laboratories, the collaboration of IAEA and WHO and the full cooperation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The three studies concluded that, while radiation can be detected at DU sites, the levels are so low that they do not pose a threat to human health and the environment.
At the same time, the studies identified a number of remaining scientific uncertainties that should be further explored. These include the extent to which DU on the ground can filter through the soil and eventually contaminate groundwater, and the possibility that DU dust could later be re-suspended in the air by wind or human activity, with the risk that it could be breathed in.
The Balkans assessments were made two to sevens years after the use of DU weapons. An early study in Iraq would add enormously to our understanding of how DU behaves in the environment. It could also show if there are any risks remaining from the period of the 1991 Gulf War.
Mr Toepfer added that UNEP stands ready to conduct early environmental field studies in Iraq: “Given the overall environmental concerns during the conflict, and the fact that the environment of Iraq was already a cause for serious concern prior to the current war, UNEP believes early field studies should be carried out. This is especially important to protect human health in a post-conflict situation”.
By end-April, UNEP will publish a “desk study” on the Iraq environment that will provide the necessary background information for conducting field research. This research will examine risks to groundwater, surface water, drinking water sources, waste-management and other environment-related infrastructure, factories and other potential sources of toxic chemicals, and biodiversity.
In addition to its work in the Balkans, UNEP has recently published post-conflict assessments on Afghanistan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Note to journalists: For more information, please contact Eric Falt at +254-2-62-3292 or +254-733-682656 (cell); Nick Nuttall at +254-2-62-3084 or +254-733-632755 (cell); or Michael Williams in Amman on Swiss cell phone +41-79-409-1528 or Michael.Williams@unep.ch.
See also www.unep.org for an extensive collection of environmental data and documents on conflict and environment in the region, and postconflict.unep.ch for UNEP’s DU and other post-conflict assessment reports.
UNEP News Release 2003/19
United Nations Environment Programme Recommends Precautionary Action Regarding Depleted Uranium In Kosovo
UNEP PRESS RELEASE: March 2001
Geneva/Nairobi, 13 March 2001 - The final report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the environmental impact of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition used during the 1999 Kosovo conflict has been released here today.
In November 2000, a UNEP field mission visited 11 of the 112 sites that were identified as being targeted by ordnance containing DU, including five in the Italian sector (MNB (W)) and six in the German sector (MNB (S)).
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, 355 samples were analyzed, including 249 soil samples, 46 water samples, 37 vegetation samples, 13 smear tests, three milk samples, four jackets (specialized parts of ordnance), two penetrators, and one penetrator fragment.
Transuranic isotopes found
Seven-and-a-half DU penetrators were found during the field mission. Low levels of radiation were detected in the immediate vicinity of the points of impact, and mild contamination from DU dust was measured near the targets. There was also some evidence from bio-indicators of airborne DU contamination near targeted sites.
In addition to U-238, which makes up the bulk of depleted uranium, the penetrators contained uranium isotope U-236 and plutonium isotope Pu-239/240 (see UNEP press releases of 16 January and 16 February 2001). The presence of these transuranic elements in the DU indicates that at least some of the material has been in nuclear reactors. However, the amount of transuranic isotopes found in the DU penetrators is very low and does not have any significant impact on their overall radioactivity.
No widespread contamination
No widespread ground contamination was found in the investigated areas. Therefore, the corresponding radiological and chemical risks are insignificant. There were a great number of contamination points in the investigated areas, but there is no significant risk related to these points in terms of possible contamination of air or plants.
"These scientific findings should alleviate any immediate anxiety that people living or working in Kosovo may have been experiencing," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Töpfer. "Under certain circumstances, however, DU can still pose risks. Our report highlights a series of precautionary measures that should be taken to guarantee that the areas struck by DU ammunition remain risk-free."
It is highly likely that penetrators are still lying on the ground surface. Although the radiological and chemical risks of touching a penetrator are insignificant, if one was put into a pocket or somewhere else close to the human body, there would be external beta radiation of the skin, leading to quite high local radiation doses after some weeks of continuous exposure. Skin burns from radiation are unlikely.
Regarding contamination points, if a child were to ingest small amounts of soil, the corresponding radiological risk would be insignificant, but from a biochemical point of view, the possible intake might be somewhat higher than the applicable health standard.
"There are still considerable scientific uncertainties, especially related to the safety of groundwater," said Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of UNEP's Depleted Uranium Assessment Team. "Additional work has to be done to reduce these uncertainties and to monitor the quality of water."
Remaining penetrators and jackets that may be hidden at several metres depth in the ground, as well as any on the ground surface, constitute a risk of future DU contamination of groundwater and drinking water. Heavy firing of DU in one area could increase the potential source of uranium contamination of groundwater by a factor of 10 to 100. While the radiation doses will be very low, the resulting uranium concentration might exceed WHO health standards for drinking water.
Although the mission findings show no cause for alarm, the report describes specific situations where risks could be significant. There are also scientific uncertainties relating to the longer-term behavior of DU in the environment. For these reasons, UNEP calls for certain precautionary actions.
According to UNEP, this precautionary action should include visiting all DU sites in Kosovo, removing slightly radioactive penetrators and jackets on the surface, decontaminating areas where feasible, and providing information to local populations on precautions to be taken if DU is found.
UNEP recommends mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina
In order to reduce scientific uncertainty on the impact of DU on the environment, particularly over time, UNEP recommends that scientific work be undertaken in Bosnia-Herzegovina where DU ordnance has persisted in the environment for over five years. This could be done as part of an overall environmental assessment of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
UNEP's work in Kosovo 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 samples were analyzed 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.
IAEA, UNEP, and WHO on future cooperation
In view of the remaining scientific uncertainties surrounding the long-term effects of the possible health and environmental impacts from the use of depleted uranium (DU), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Health Organisation (WHO), in accordance with their respective mandates, will consider together whether it is necessary to prepare future missions to areas where depleted uranium has been used during military conflicts.
Note to journalists:The report is available at http://www.unep.ch/balkans/. For more information, please contact UNEP Depleted Uranium Assessment Team Chairman Mr. Pekka Haavisto at +41-79-477-0877 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or UNEP Spokesperson Mr. Tore Brevik at +254-2-623292 or email@example.com; or UNEP Press Officer Mr. Michael Williams at +41-22-9178242, +41-79-409-1528 (cell) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UNEP News Release 01/36