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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 19:01 GMT
Hungary appeals for ecological help

Black flags on a Tisza bridge The people of Tokaj in Hungary hang black flags above the Tisza

Hungary has asked for international help to deal with the ecological and economic effects in its territory from the leakage of cyanide from a gold mine in Romania last month.

The polluted water has spread from the Tisza river into the Danube and as far as the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.

Hungary's appeal came as United Nations scientists began taking water samples from the Danube.

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More than 100 tonnes of dead fish have so far been recovered from the Tisza, and dead fish are now also being recovered from the Danube in Belgrade.

Extremely serious

According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the spill of over 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-tainted water from a reservoir at the Aurul gold mine in Baia Mare "ecologically killed" a vast stretch of waterways.

Tisza fish A volunteer collects dead fish from the River Tisza
A spokesman said 19 species of protected fish live in the Tisza and "this spill has, in practical terms, eradicated all life" from up to 400km (250 miles) of the river.

A Hungarian official said on Tuesday: "This is an extremely serious environmental catastrophe. It is not accidental that it has been compared to Chernobyl. Its effects are equally impossible to predict."

But Romanian Environment Minister, Romica Tomescu said: "You can absolutely not compare this incident, absolutely regrettable as it is, to the Chernobyl catastrophe."


Both Hungary and Yugoslavia are threatening to sue Romania for damages if their demands for compensation are not met.

Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban said on Tuesday: "We are planning to initiate court action against the Romanian company and will also initiate one in Australia, against the parent company.

Aurul gold mine The cyanide leaked from the Aurul gold mine
"And we are seriously considering one against the Romanian state," he added.

Hungary has asked the United Nations for an independent team of experts to assess the spill.

A delegation of Australian experts from the Perth-based firm Esmeralda Exploration, which owns 50% of Aurul, is expected to travel to the mine on Wednesday.

The company has denied responsibility for the spill, saying the extent of poisoning had been exaggerated with no proof to back it up.

The Serbian Environment Minister Branislav Blazic said there were fears of an environmental graveyard at the bottom of the Tisza.

Mr Blazic said the concentration of cyanide reached 50 times the maximum tolerable level on Sunday at one point on the Danube, but on Monday was down to 20 times the maximum tolerable level along the left bank of the river.

The World Health Organisation expressed concern that lead and cadmium might have also escaped into the water, posing a far greater health threat.

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See also:
13 Feb 00 |  Europe
Cyanide spill reaches Danube
15 Feb 00 |  Europe
Two weeks to kill the Tisza
14 Feb 00 |  Europe
Romania cautious on cyanide risk
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
14 Feb 00 |  Europe
Death of a river

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