Workers Found From Iraq Phosgene In UN Headquarters

Former United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq have discovered traces of chemical substances, including the poisonous gas phosgene, in their office in New York and have called on US authorities to investigate, a spokeswoman said Thursday. "There is no immediate risk or dangers and the UNMOVIC staff is still working on the premise," UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

The FBI was called in to help remove the substances.

U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said one of the substances identified on Wednesday was phosgene suspended in oil, "whose present state is unknown but which could be potentially hazardous." Phosgene can be used as a chemical warfare agent.

The material was immediately secured by experts at the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, and the U.N. sought assistance from U.S. authorities in having the material safely removed, she said.

"The office area was screened using UNOMVIC's chemical weapons detection equipment. No toxic vapors were found. There is no immediate risk or danger. UNMOVIC staff are still working on the premises," Okabe said.

The material in a sealed plastic bag includes "unknown liquid substances contained in metal and glass containers ranging in size from small vials to tubes the length of a pen in one of the sealed plastic bags," she said. "The only information we have of the contents of that bag is from an inventory of a 1996 inspection which indicates that one of the items may contain phosgene, an old-generation chemical warfare agent."

Commenting on the discovery, White House spokesman Tony Snow said, "I'm sure that there are going to be a lot of red-faced people over at the U.N. trying to figure out how (the chemicals) got there."

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