GUINEA: Uncertainty over toxic chemicals in Conakry
DAKAR, 17 November 2009 (IRIN) - The recent upheaval in Guinea has thrown into question the status of toxic chemicals discovered earlier this year at several sites throughout the capital Conakry, according to UN experts.
The products, which can be used to make or refine narcotics, were found in buildings near people’s homes; they are inflammable and pose a public health threat. Instability following a military crackdown on demonstrators has blocked UN drug and crime experts from visiting the sites since August.
“Beyond the fact that these are products that can be used for making narcotics, they are substances that have a very high toxicity level for the population,” Alexandre Schmidt, West Africa head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told journalists in the Senegalese capital Dakar on 16 November. “So there is a public health problem there. These products pollute; they are inflammable; they could explode.”
UNODC in mid-October submitted to Guinea’s military government a proposed plan for destroying the substances and is awaiting a response, according to UNODC officials. The junta had asked the international community for assistance in disposing of the chemicals, saying it did not have the means.
UNODC and Interpol made a joint evaluation mission late August but recent unrest in Guinea forced the UN to suspend follow-up missions; officials do not know what has become of the substances, which include precursors for controlled drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA) as well as solvents commonly used in the processing of cocaine and heroin.
“Up to end of August we knew the quantities, specifications and location of these products,” Schmidt said. He said given the lack of access officials do not know whether the chemicals are still contained at the sites or are being used to make drugs.
UNODC deputy regional representative Cyriaque Sobtafo told IRIN given the complexity of moving the substances, the agency’s plan calls for disposing of or destroying them in Guinea. He said environmental experts would take part in order to ensure no harm to health and the environment.
In its August evaluation UNODC and Interpol found eight sites storing chemicals – seven with the capacity to make or refine narcotics, one equipped to make fake antibiotics.
“What is worrying is that there is the capacity to produce synthetic drugs – ecstasy,” UNODC's Schmidt said. He said that if the products found in Conakry were made into ecstasy the market value would be 125 million euros (US$186 million).
Officials with the military government were unavailable to comment on the status of the chemicals or an eventual response to UNODC’s proposed plan.
UNODC’s Schmidt said if the government responds favourably the agency would likely get from the UN an “exceptional authorization” for the mission as it would be a “humanitarian intervention”.