Oops

Andrei Marks · September 1, 2007

From the 2007-09-01 print of the Beijing Paper (新京报) on page A18 in the International Section–Headlines. A three part spread: article, investigation, and link. Written by Feng Wuyong, Zhang Le, and Feng Wuyong again, respectively. The latter author wrote it for the Xinhua Press. This one isn’t exactly about America, but it takes place on American soil…well, sort of. Honestly I think it’s a sort of silly affair. Imagine, oversights like these happen all the time, everywhere, in every department of every government in the world. In fact, the world is one giant oversight.

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Lethal Gas Found in United Nations Office Building

- It came from Iraq; employees were completely unaware they worked around dangerous substances for 10 years, which fortunately never leaked.

On August 30 a United Nations official said that U.N. weapons inspectors, while cleaning out items in a U.N. building from a previous inspection of an Iraqi chemical factory, unexpectedly found the dangerous material phosgene, which can be used in the manufacturing of chemical weapons.

Phosgene is a colorless volatile liquid or gas, and if inhaled it can seriously injure the respiratory system with fatal results.

Used In Large Quantities During World War I

The complex the phosgene was discovered in includes the office building of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC), and is located on New York’s east side, a block away from the United Nations headquarters.

On August 30 the Deputy Spokeswoman for the U.N. Secretary General, Maria Okabe, said that on August 24, UNMOVIC workers discovered several suspicious chemical preparations while they were tidying up, but at first did not know what they were. Then on August 29 the workers finally understood that the chemical preparation was the dangerous material phosgene. During the first World War, Phosgene was used in great quantities on the battlefields.

Okabe said that these preparations were among items stored from a weapons inspection made by a U.N. examiners in Iraq in 1996, and should be from a chemical weapons plant. “At present there is no risk or danger.” Okabe said that it is also unnecessary to evacuate the building’s personnel.

The Deadly Poison Was Forgotten Early On

Buchanan, an UNMOVIC spokesperson, said that the phosgene was stored in a container about the size of a soda can, and was in its liquid state in oil. The container was sealed in a plastic bag, and aside from the phosgene there were other “unknown liquids, stored in metal or glass containers”.

Buchanan said that in another sealed plastic bag were many different chemical samples, which had been placed in sealed glass test tubes. He said that these items were all locked in a room’s safety cabinet, and the only identifying markings on the items were inventory numbers.

In order to check what these numbers represented, the staff had to look through a heap of files several hundred meters tall, until they finally found the corresponding descriptions of the contents.

“The only information we found was that these items came from a 1996 inspection, and some of the containers contained phosgene, which is an old-fashioned chemical weapon preparation,” said Okabe.

Afterwards these items were immediately sealed and stored. United Nations specialists also inspected the office the chemicals were discovered in as well as the surrounding area. Buchanan said the the inspection revealed that, “There weren’t any traces of chemicals found in the air”, and so there is no danger to the public. The inspectors will continue their work in their original location.

A Leak Could Have Fatally Poisoned Over A Dozen People

UNMOVIC’s Russian specialist Regina was spooked by the event. She said that if the packaged phosgene’s container had leaked, there would have been a fatal outcome, “There would have been over a dozen casualties”.

High level UNMOVIC official Muladi said that for the sake of safety, the workers looked through the remaining items to see whether or not there were other dangerous substances, but there weren’t any found.

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Under the heading “Investigation”:

The FBI Gets Involved in the Poison Gas Incident

- The police said that the poison gas was mistakenly sent to the office 10 years ago.

On August 30 the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) became involved in the investigation of the poison gas found in the United Nations office. The police said that 10 years ago the poison gas should have been sent to a laboratory, but the reason for why it was mistakenly sent to the office is unknown.

After the incident occurred, a team of dangerous material research specialists from the FBI and the New York City Police Department immediately rushed to the seen, and sealed off the northern area of the United Nations headquarters.

The police transferred the chemical materials to the suburbs, and according to reports they were then transported to a military facility for more detailed analyses by specialists. FBI investigators also used chemical weapons detectors to inspect the air inside the office for phosgene, but they didn’t discover any traces of the poison.

On August 30 Tony Snow, the White House spokesperson, said that the American government is already cooperating with the involved United Nations organizations to transfer these materials to a suitable location. He also said, “We believe that there are definitely going to be many people arguing until they’re red in the face about how these things were sent to a United Nations office.” Snow said that the relevant departments will use all of their power to solve the case.

The local authorities said that these dangerous materials have been in the the United Nations office building since 1996, when they were mistakenly sent to the office, rather than a chemical laboratory.

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Under the heading “Link”:

The Iraq Inspectors Will Soon Be “Parting Sadly”

- Were once responsible for seeing that Iraq destroyed its chemical and biological weapons, as well as its ballistic missiles.

In December of 1999 the United Nations Security Council decided to establish the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC), in order to replace the United Nations Special Committee for the Supervision of the Destruction of Iraqi Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Weapons(UNSCOM), and were responsible for inspecting Iraq’s destruction of chemical and biological weapons, as well as ballistic missiles.

They could inspect, without any conditions or limitations, suspicious places, facilities, files, etc.

In March of 2003, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, the United Nations weapons inspectors were pulled out of the country. At the end of June in the same year, the Security Council decided to forthwith halt UNMOVIC’s mission, and UNMOVIC is currently carrying out the last of its clean up work.



Translator’s notes:
- Haha, I don’t think the writer of this article is familiar with New York’s urban geography. I would say Manhattan’s East Side. But I won’t hold it against him, and neither should you, dear reader.
- Maria Okabe’s name really threw me off, in the paper it’s 冈部万里江, or gangbuwanlijiang, or Mountain Ridge Ten Thousand Mile River (Okabe is the mountain ridge part). But then I realized it was a Japanese name! I’d thought Okabe was from some African language at first. Chinese speakers can usually recognize a Japanese name they use Chinese characters, but with different pronunciations, and with a different structure than Chinese names, which are usually 2 or 3 syllables, from front to back.
- Okay, there are some punctuation errors in the original article; periods occur after fragments of a sentence or two, and I’m also pretty sure that they couldn’t have looked through a pile of files hundreds of meters tall. I don’t think that is an idiomatic expression either. Unless they meant several hundred files piled a meter high. But then that doesn’t sound like very much at all; I feel like several hundred files would be much taller.
- “Parting Sadly”, in the title of the Links section, is actually a chengyu (4 character idiom), 曲终人散, literally “song finish people part”, meaning after the song concludes everyone will separate, or “sadness following a joyful reunion”.
- I know that one sentence about the replacement of UNSCOM with UNMOVIC is a little redundant, but it’s how it’s written!

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