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Monday, 10 July, 2000, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
Hungary seeks pollution damages
Forking fish
Fish died in such numbers they were scooped from the water
Hungary says it is to seek more than $100 million in damages from an Australian mining company after a poison spill last year which caused some of the worst river pollution Europe has ever known.

Tonnes of cyanide residue poured from the Aurul gold mine - part-owned by Esmeralda Enterprises - into the Tisza river in Romania, and were then washed into the Danube and finally the Black Sea.

Temporary water supply.
Some people had their water supplies cut off
A total of six countries were affected and Hungary says it alone lost more than 1,000 tonnes of fish. The water supplies of more than 2.5 million people were threatened.

Janos Goenczy, the Hungarian government commissioner appointed after the spill, announced on Monday that the country is seeking 29.37 billion forints ($108 million) in damages.

Esmeralda, part owner of Aurul, is already in liquidation.

Mr Goenczy will travel to Romania later this week to check reports that Aurul has restarted operations.

The compensation sought by the government is to cover a number of costs incurred by the by the pollution:

  • removing and destroying tonnes of dead fish
  • clean-up operations
  • long-term damage.

Hungarian Environment Minister Pal Pepo said at the time of the spill it could take up to 10 years for Hungary's water eco-system to recover.

Dead fish on riverbank
There were fears the poison might enter the food chain
The accident occurred when fluid with a high concentration of cyanide overflowed from a dam at the Aurul mine in Romania.

As the level of destruction became apparent in Hungary, newspaper reports compared it to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and told of stunned Hungarians staring at the "dead river".

Hungarian radio spoke of black flags being raised along the Tisza River and citizens gathering to "mourn" the river by throwing red carnations into it.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe
"The Australian and Romanian governments claim that Hungary exaggerated the effect of the spill"
See also:

14 Feb 00 | Europe
Romania cautious on cyanide risk
11 Feb 00 | Media reports
Hungary's shock at cyanide disaster
19 May 00 | Correspondent
Romania's poison dump
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