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The BBC's Jonathan Charles reports
"Many rare species have been wiped out"
 real 28k

BBC Central Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe
"This was the second Hungarian-Romanian meeting in less than a week"
 real 28k

Monday, 14 February, 2000, 22:35 GMT
Romania cautious on cyanide risk

Fisherman and dead fish Fisherman on the River Tisza remove dead fish


Romania has said that it will wait for the results of tests before assessing the extent of environmental damage caused by cyanide which leaks from a gold mine and contaminated several central European rivers.

Aurul gold mine The cyanide leaked from the Aurul gold mine
The leak occured in late January from the Aurul gold mine in the northwestern city of Baia Mare. The mine is 50%-owned by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration, with the other half in the hands of four Romanian state-owned companies.

Anton Vlad, state secretary in the Romanian Environment Ministry said: "The Romanian state cannot blame the spill on the Aurul plant before we assess the full results of the tests."

Compensation

He was speaking after a meeting on Monday with Hungarian officials, who say that the River Tisza has suffered severe environmental damage.

"It will take up to 10 years for Hungary's water eco-system to recover, Hungarian Environment Minister Pal Pepo told reporters in Baia Mare.

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He said Hungary would wait for the results of tests in a week or so before deciding whether to ask Romania or Aurul for compensation.


Boat with dead fish A Danube fisherman collects fish poisoned by cyanide
Mr Vlad and Mr Pepo toured the smelter's tailings dam, used to contain the toxic slurry waste, from which the contaminated liquid escaped.

Esmeralda Exploration accepts that there was a leak from the plant due to heavy rain and snow, but argues that concentrations of the chemical could not have been high enough to wipe out river life.

The company has announced that it intends to send its own experts to the region to investigate.

Dead fish

Yugoslav officials on Sunday reported finding hundreds of dead fish in the lower reaches of the River Tisza, 50 km (30 miles) north of Belgrade where it joins the Danube.

Dead fish have now also been found in Danube itself.

Hungarian authorities maintain that the cyanide spill is the greatest environmental disaster in the region since the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986.


Woman filling bottle from a water lorry Residents in the suburbs of Belgrade have had their mains water cut off
They say that approximately 300 tonnes of dead fish have been removed from the rivers and, though the water is now clean, there is no life left.

The head of the environmental committee in the Hungarian parliament, Zoltan Illes, warned that the poisoning could pollute the food chain for years to come.

Ferenc Laszlo of the Vituki Institute of Water Pollution Control in Budapest said the institute estimated that 100 tonnes of slurry containing cyanide had been released.



EU help

"The Romanian government has shown full readiness to examine the consequences of this serious ecological accident," Foreign Minister Petre Roman said before leaving for the start of the talks in Brussels on Tuesday.

In Brussels, the European Commission said on Monday it might allocate some economic aid earmarked for eastern Europe towards helping clear up the spill.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom was expected in Romania on Thursday to assess the damage and ask authorities how the EU could assist.

But cyanide concentration levels have fallen steadily over the weekend, raising hopes that the Danube will escape the worst effects.

Romanian authorities dispatched teams of experts to monitor the Danube, which flows into Romania from Serbia and ends in a delta which is one of Europe's leading nature reserves.

Romanian public radio quoted local experts monitoring the Danube on a 196-km (120-mile) stretch inside Romania as saying that no traces of cyanide or heavy metals had been found so far.





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

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