The Age
Experts tot up Tisza bill


Monday 28 February 2000

Environmental experts assessing the damage to Hungary's Tisza River from last month's cyanide spill from a gold mine in Romania will have to wait until the end of the northern summer before the full extent of the damage is known.

As it prepares to begin compensation actions in Romanian and Australian courts against the Aurul plant, half-owned by the Perth-based Esmeralda Explorations, the Hungarian Government said it would be months before monetary damage could be assessed.

The head of the international relations department of Hungary's Environment Ministry, Mr Nandor Zoltai, said: "Ecologists are saying they will not be able to say anything about the extent of the damage until the end of June or July, because that will be the end of an ecological cycle." While the contaminated water has passed, Mr Zoltai said experts were now anxious to determine how much heavy metal had settled into the sediment of the Tisza, and how that could be cleared up.

The Justice Minister, Mr Ibolya David, has said legal actions in Romania and Australia would begin "within days" and would include steps to freeze Aurul's assets.

Hungary's final compensation claims are expected to account for losses to the fishing industry, the Tisza-based tourism industry, and to industries dependent on Tisza water that had to shut down at the height of the accident.

Two teams of experts will assess the damage to the Tisza, in which some 100 tonnes of fish were killed. The first team, European Union and Hungarian and Romanian experts and officials, will address the economic and social impacts of the spillage in which 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-tainted water flowed into the Szamos stream in Romania, the Tisza, and later the Danube in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

The second will be an "international investigative group" involving the United Nations Environment Program, UN humanitarian affairs officials and others. It will determine the damage to the river and the rehabilitation procedures necessary.

Esmeralda said last week it was already ruined - regardless of whether it was held liable for compensation - because the mine was closed by Romanian officials after the accident and would remain shut for at least a month. The mine, 10 years and $A30 million in the making, had only been operating nine months.

Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Ukraine are believed to be considering compensation actions.

Original article