The Age
Dead animals in river blamed on cyanide spill


Thursday 24 February 2000

BUDAPEST - Hungarian officials issued a water quality alert on Tuesday after recovering the remains of two horses, a bear, small mammals and more dead fish after a cyanide spill in Romania last month.

If confirmed, the animals are the biggest victims yet of the 30January accident at a mine in the northern Romanian town of Baia-Mare, which Hungary said killed more than 100 tonnes of fish in the Tisza River.

Their discovery came as Romanian authorities ordered the Australian firm that co-owns the Baia-Mare mining plant to improve safety.

The cyanide from the Romanian Aurul gold mining complex entered the Tisza after the spill. It eventually entered the Danube in neighboring Yugoslavia, before flowing towards the Black Sea.

Romania and Australian mining firm Esmeralda Exploration Ltd have said Hungary has exaggerated the environmental damage, and have also questioned whether it was caused by the cyanide spill.

Budapest stands by its claims - and said Tuesday's finds confirmed the scale of the disaster.

"The mammals died because they either drank the cyanide-laced water or ate poisoned fish," said Colonel Sandor Istenes of the northern Szabolcs county catastrophe prevention authority.

And new carcasses are being found in and along the Somes and Tisza rivers in northern Hungary, "after ice thawed in the north and consequent flooding released more dead fish from the mud," Colonel Istenes said.

"Laboratory tests have shown that they (the newly found dead animals) perished due to cyanide poisoning."

According to Hungary, the late January spill killed more than 100 tonnes of fish in Hungary and killed a few protected species.

A Hungarian official said fishing remained banned on the Somes and Tisza, as well as their tributaries.

Meanwhile, in Baia-Mare, northern Romania, where the accident occurred, authorities told local Esmeralda boss Mr Phil Evers that the company must build a back-up reservoir to catch runoff from ponds where gold is leached from ore using cyanide.

About 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-laced water escaped on 31January from the complex and flowed into tributaries of the Danube in Hungary.

Original article