Budapest Sun
Deep river blues

Duncan Welch

Jul. 20, 2000

Esmeralda, the Australian company alleged to be responsible for the cyanide spill that devastated the river Tisza, has called Hungary's compensation claim of $108 million "excessive".

Esmeralda Chairman Brett Montgomery, speaking immediately after the accident in February said, "These claims cause me considerable skepticism", and "indications to date support our belief that the accident did not cause a major environmental disaster".

Hungary didn't agree and last week launched compensation claims against Esmeralda, with Yugoslavia adding their two cents worth by joining the fray and filing for $2 million.

Esmeralda is clearly not happy with such high demands and said it opposed the notion of responsibility for the damage. Executives of the company said that legal responsibilities and finances need to be thoroughly examined.

According to Kim Strickland, Esmeralda's bankruptcy receiver, the company does not have the financial means to meet the compensation claims and there is not enough details over how the given sum had been reached.

Lawyer Hayden Stephens, who is representing Hungary in Australia, said, "There is enormous resentment in Europe over this spill. The documentation we've found, and Esmeralda's own documentation, shows that they (the Australian company) were the project managers, and we say the cyanide spill was caused by their conduct."

Stephens said there were no plans to seek compensation from the Romanian government at present, although Romania holds a 50% share in the smelting operation.

The Tisza-Cyanide scandal has been a confused affair from day one, with conflicting reports about what happened, who was to blame and the level of damage.

Damage that, according to a recent BBC report is still being felt. In July's BBC health program Health Matters: The Ecology of an Illness, George Monbiot, an environmental journalist, examined the damaged Tisza and local Romanian area of Baia-Mare.

According to Monbiot, nearly all the children in the area had "lead levels in their blood above the World Health Organization limits, in some cases 10 or 20 times those limits", leading to liver and kidney problems coupled with many infant mortalities.

He added that children "play on toxic waste tips as if it was a giant sand pit", and women pick flowers from the waste to make herb tea.

Original article