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United Press International 5 August 1999

Copyright 1999 U.P.I. United Press International

UN: 'Serious' Balkans ecology problems

The head of the Balkans Task Force on the environment says ''preliminary findings show there are serious environmental consequences and probably serious health consequences'' from conflicts in southeastern Europe. Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish environment minister, said today after a nine-day inspection trip to damaged industrial sites the panel found ''lots of mercury, several hazardous or toxic substances'' and added that groundwater might be contaminated at several sites. ''There are certain environmental impacts and risks for health if immediate action is not taken,'' said Haavisto, chairman of the joint U. N. Environment program/U.N. Center for Human Settlements (Habitat) Balkans Task Force. But, he said, ''Everybody is waiting for reports and scientific results before taking any action,'' adding, ''It's safe to wait a couple of months.'' He told reporters where there is reconstruction, often ''workers are not always protected from mercury and asbestos -- people are not aware.'' One problem that must be overcome in the Balkans is determining when the environment was impacted, to distinguish between previous conditions and what was caused by the recent crisis.'' Haavisto said upon arriving at one site he was greeted with: ''We've been waiting 10 years for independent environmental inspectors.'' He estimated it would take ''several years'' to clean up the Balkans, ''if done according to the best criteria.'' Asked about depleted uranium from spent conventional arms, the environmentalist said, ''We haven't found any higher readings at the moment.'' However, he said information about such a potential problem was being sought from the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Copyright 1999 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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