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Depleted Uranium Contamination Found in Bosnia, says UNEP - 2003-03-30

The U.N. Environment Program says it has found contamination from depleted uranium used to harden anti-tank weapons used by NATO forces during the 1994-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. UNEP says the substance has contaminated local supplies of drinking water at one site, and can still be found in dust particles suspended in the air. But, the findings are not alarming experts.

The U.N. report says the recorded contamination levels are very low and do not present immediate radioactive or toxic risks for the environment or human health.

The head of the team that carried out the investigation, Pekka Haavisto, says World Health Organization scientists also cannot establish a link between depleted uranium and health problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"Their first conclusion was that based on the data that was available, they cannot see any link between the [depleted uranium] attacks or [depleted uranium] sites and the health problems," he said.

Nevertheless, the World Health Organization recommends that anyone with a specific health claim should be examined carefully.

In October, 70 scientists and environmental experts visited 15 sites in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been bombed during the war.

Mr. Haavisto says the team found the presence of depleted uranium at two locations. He says neither of these sites had been properly cleaned up.

He says it is cause for concern because one place is a busy industrial area and the other is a military garrison where young soldiers are being trained in a place that is contaminated by depleted uranium. Both sites were targeted by warheads containing depleted uranium during the war.

"The levels of contamination, the levels of radioactivity are very low, the levels of toxicity are quite low - for the precaution, our immediate recommendation is that these areas be immediately cleaned up," he said.

The U.N. report records the first instance of depleted uranium contamination of groundwater in Bosnia. It recommends that alternative water sources be used and that water samples be monitored for several years.