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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Gold mine re-opens after cyanide spill
The spill flowed into the Tisza and then into the Danube
The gold mining plant in Romania blamed for a deadly cyanide spill that killed thousands of fish in January has restarted operations with improved environmental safety measures.

Australian firm Esmeralda Exploration - which owns half of the Aurul gold mine - said it had complied with all requirements set out by the Romanian authorities and environmental agencies, including the United Nations.

Dead fish
The spill killed thousands of fish

On 30 January this year, about 100 cubic metres of cyanide-laced water spilt from the plant into the Tisza river and then along the Danube into Hungary and Yugoslavia.

Cyanide is used to treat tailings and recover gold.

The spill caused enormous destruction to wildlife, killing thousands of fish and badly affecting otters and white-tailed eagles, both protected species.

"Environmental safety is our number one priority," Aurul's newly-appointed managing director Martyn Churchouse said.

"We have reviewed our monitoring procedures and emergency plans and taken a number of substantive measures."


The plant's design had now been modified to prevent overflows and monitor water levels and a permanent cyanide detoxification unit was going to be installed, the company said.

It said the spill was "caused by a combination of bad weather - the worst in 50 years - and inadequacies in design on the system".

The prefect of Baia Mare, where the mine is based, said local people had a public meeting that discussed concerns about the re-opening of the mine.

"They want Aurul to start up again," he said.

Esmeralda owns 50% of Aurul, with the Romanian Government holding 45% and the remaining 5% in the hands of private Romanian companies.

Esmeralda went into receivership in Australia in Marchwith undisclosed debts.

"Our intention is to work towards a proposal in the next couple of weeks and for the company to come back out of administration," Esmeralda lawyer Michael Hardy said.

Fishing ban lifted

In Hungary, a ban placed on fishing in the Tisza river after the Aurul cyanide spill five months ago will be lifted on Monday.

Sick osprey
Wildlife around the area such as osprey were also affected

Local fishermen have begun tipping buckets containing tiny fish into the river hoping they will provide a future livelihood.

"We can hardly wait to start to work again," fisherman Imre Koeroesi, 54, told Associated Press news agency.

"We haven't been able to fish since last fall, and have used up all our reserves."

About 80,000 tiny catfish have been dumped into the river.

More than half of the 60% of fish in the Tisza were indigenous and are being re-introduced, Janos Goenczy, a Hungarian commissioner in charge of catastrophe prevention, said.

"There's a good chance that we can improve the fish stock of the river," he said.

The Hungarian Government reportedly plans to sue Aurul company and Romania for damages estimated at about $3.5m.

However, Esmeralda lawyer Michael Hardy said so far the company had not been notified of any legal action by the Hungarian authorities.

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See also:

15 Feb 00 | Europe
Death of a river
13 Feb 00 | Europe
Cyanide spill reaches Danube
11 Feb 00 | Media reports
Hungary's shock at cyanide disaster
10 Feb 00 | Europe
Cyanide spill wreaks havoc
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