United Nations weapons inspectors discovered six to eight vials of a dangerous nerve gas, phosgene, as they were cleaning out offices at a U.N. building in New York this morning, federal authorities tell the Blotter on ABCNews.com.
The federal authorities said the office, in a U.N. building near headquarters, was being evacuated and the White House had been notified at 10 a.m.
New York police and fire officials said federal authorities had not notified them of any problem at the U.N. building, as of 11 a.m.
A U.N. spokesperson said a statement would be issued shortly.
Authorities said the phosgene was believed to have been discovered in Iraq and manufactured prior to 1991.
Former U.N. weapons inspectors told ABCNews.com that vials of phosgene had also been used by inspectors in Iraq to help calibrate air sampling instruments.
The former inspectors said the remaining vials were supposed to have been destroyed.
"If it is properly sealed, it should not pose much of a threat unless it is dropped," said former New York City emergency services director Jerry Hauer, an ABC News consultant.
"They need to get it out of there and put it in a safe canister," Hauer said. "It shows immense stupidity to have that kind of thing sitting around as a souvenir."
According to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control, phosgene at room temperature is a poisonous, colorless gas with a suffocating odor like newly mown hay.
According to an article in Foreign Affairs, the chemical was allegedly used by Iran in the Iran-Iraq war in 1987.
Phosgene was used extensively during World War I as a "choking agent" and, according to the CDC Web site, among the chemicals used in the war, it was responsible for the large majority of deaths.
The chemical also has numerous commercial applications in the manufacture of plastics and pesticides.