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State lab a ticking time bomb, MPs hear

MPs called on Thursday for the construction of a new building to house the state lab as the existing infrastructure, in the case of an earthquake, could cause massive damage to the surrounding area due to the dangerous chemicals stored in substandard conditions.

The head of the state lab, Popi Kanari, told the House health committee that the building housing the current facilities was built in 1970 without any earthquake resistance provisions, and that despite numerous appeals to the competent state authorities, the construction of a new building has been pending since 2008.

“Today 21 labs are housed [in the existing building] where inflammable radioactive toxic substances are stored in shacks, not even in decent, roofed premises,” Kanari said. She added that the staff who were working in squalid conditions had now reached their limits as regards safety and work spaces.

The lab is situated near a swimming pool and at least once school.
The state lab is dealing with food safety, is monitoring and controlling pollution of the water and the environment, and provides quality controls for consumer products including pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. It also has a forensic chemistry and toxicology laboratory which carries out analyses among others for drug trafficking and drug use, arson, use and possession of explosives, murders, rapes and unnatural deaths and poisonings.

The existing infrastructure, Kanari said, limits the development of the state lab as it cannot even apply EU directives because it does not have the proper facilities.

“Construction on the new building was to commence in 2008 but our respective governments were saying that it was not an urgent project and that chances of an earthquake were infinitesimal and so it was put on the back burner,” Kanari said.

She said that back in 2007, a €700,000 study was carried out on a new state lab building and that the government had a plot available for this purpose, “but unfortunately many years passed without anyone viewing positively this project”. A new lab would cost well over €30 million.

“The time has come for the immediate start of construction not in 2018, but in 2017, with a four to five years’ completion timeframe,” Kanari said.

The head of the House health committee, Costakis Constantinou, said that all committee members had unanimously agreed on taking the initiative on pushing forward the construction of a new state lab building.

The committee is calling on the finance ministry and the government to come up with a supplementary budget for construction to commence “even in 2018 […] for a new building in five years”. Constantinou said that he would convey this message himself to President Nicos Anastasiades.

Akel MP Adamos Adamou said that in the case of an earthquake, “the whole area will be in danger”. Greens’ MP Giorgos Perdikis said that the lab’s building was “a radioactive bomb within a densely-populated Nicosia area”. His party, he said, had brought up the issue six years ago.

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