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The BBC's Carrie Gracie
"Cyanide is killing the river as it goes"
 real 28k

The BBC's Nick Thorpe reports from Budapest
"Main hope for Danube is that cyanide will be diluted"
 real 28k

Sunday, 13 February, 2000, 22:35 GMT
Cyanide spill reaches Danube

fish Almost all fish in the river Tisza have perished

Hundreds of fish are floating belly-up in the Danube river but experts say the river may escape the worst effects of a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold smelter.

The spill originated in northwest Romania, near the town of Oradea where a dam at the Baia Mare goldmine overflowed two weeks ago.

fish Authorities must dispose of the poisoned fish safely
About 100,000 cubic metres (3.5 million cubic feet) of the lethal chemical have been travelling down the river Tisza, a tributary of the Danube, first through Hungary and then northern Yugoslavia.

Hundreds of dead and dying fish were reported to be floating at the junction of the Danube and the Tisza, 50km (30 miles) upstream from the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, on Sunday.

Click here for map

The spill has caused enormous destruction to wildlife in both the Hungarian and Yugoslav reaches of the Tisza.

Yet Europe's largest waterway looks likely to escape that fate - Serbia's Deputy Agriculture Minister, Zivka Ilic, said the river's waters had diluted the cyanide to safe levels.

"The maximum concentrations we measured are 0.06 milligrams per litre of water and the allowable maximum is 0.1 milligrams," she said. "The danger has passed."


However, Serbia has said it will seek compensation for the cyanide spill.

The Tisza has been killed. Not even bacteria have survived
Environment minister Branislav Blazic
Environmentalists estimated that some 80% of the fish in the Tisza died in what they say could be the biggest ecological catastrophe in Europe since the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.

Serbia's Environment Minister Branislav Blazic said it would take at least five years for life to recover in the river.

"The Tisza has been killed. Not even bacteria have survived," Mr Blazic said. "This is a total catastrophe."

river Mourners threw flowers in the poisoned water
"We will demand an estimation of the damage and we will demand that the culprits for this tragedy be punished."

On Saturday, hundreds of Hungarians mourned the "dead Tisza", throwing flowers in the water, lighting candles and carrying black flags.

The cyanide spill adds to the ecological strain on Yugoslavia, following pollution caused by last year's Nato strikes on oil refineries and factories.

Environmental impact

The latest problem confronting the authorities is how to dispose of the dead fish without causing more environmental harm.

Birds and riverside animals, which normally feed off the fish, have also been affected.

Emergency water supplies were brought in for people living close to the river Tisza.

Compensation row

The Australian company, Esmerelda Exploration Limited, which owns a majority share in the gold mine has challenged the claims of the Romanian authorities that they had been frequently warned about the danger.

Hungary has also demanded compensation for the spill, which the Romanian Government has said the mine's owners would have to pay.

A joint commission of Hungarian and Romanian experts will assess the damage.

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See also:
10 Feb 00 |  Europe
Cyanide spill wreaks havoc
11 Feb 00 |  Media reports
Hungary's shock at cyanide disaster

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