Vials of Dangerous Chemicals From Iraq Found at United Nations Offices in NYC

DEVELOPING STORY: Vials of dangerous chemicals found by weapons inspectors in Iraq more than a decade ago were discovered Thursday in a United Nations office building near the world body's headquarters in the heart of New York City.

No evacuations were ordered, and there was no immediate danger to the public, a U.N. spokesman said.

Hazardous materials personnel and the FBI were reported at the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission offices at 48th Street and 1st Avenue in Manhattan. The commission's offices are on the building's third and sixth floors.

The material was phosgene, a chemical warfare agent, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe told a hastily gathered news conference.

The inspections unit said in a statement that the chemicals had been found last Friday as weapons inspectors were closing their offices, said Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for the inspectors.

Phosgene was used during World War I as a choking agent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The U.N. issued the following statement on the incident:

"On Friday 24th August 2007 in archiving UNSCOM files, UNMOVI staff discovered two small plastic packages with metal and glass containers (ranging in size from small vials to tubes the length of a pen) with unknown liquid substances. The archives are located at the UNMOVIC headquarters, 866 East 48th Street, 3rd and 6th floors.

"An initial investigation has revealed that these items were recovered from a former Iraqi chemical weapons facility, al Muthamma, by UNSCOM inspectors in 1996.

"It was only on 29 August, however, that the inspection report containing an inventory of the items was recovered. The inventory shows that one of the items may contain phosgene (COCL2) suspended in oil -- an old generation chemical warfare agent. The inventory also indicated that the other package contains Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) reference standards in sealed glass tubes. These standards are used to calibrate chemical analytical equipment.

"UNMOVIC has confirmed that normally such items would have been transported directly to appropriately equipped laboratories for analysis and not sent to UNSCOM/ UNMOVIC headquarters in New York. In the past, UNSCOM chemical samples were sent via military transport directly to Edgewood labs."

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