Romania says goldmine ignored environment warnings

BUCHAREST, Feb 10, 2000 -- (Reuters) A Romanian minister on Wednesday accused a local gold smelter, half owned by an Australian gold mining firm, of ignoring warnings that cyanide could spill into a river flowing from Romania into Hungary.

But Esmeralda Exploration Ltd, which owns 50 percent of the Aurul SA gold project in Romania, denied the charges.

Officials in both Hungary and Romania say the Tisza river was badly polluted by cyanide from the plant on January 31.

"We have issued repeated written warnings over the past year to the (Aurul) plant, asking them to check again all their technological equipment," Virgil Diaconu, deputy minister in charge of environmental protection, told Reuters.

"We asked them to take all the steps needed to ensure maximum environmental safety, but it seems that they ignored those warnings," Diaconu said.

Speaking from Australia, Esmeralda's media adviser Chris Codrington, told Reuters in Bucharest on Wednesday that there wad been no "repeated warning" against the Romanian smelter.

"There has been no repeated warning from the EPA (Environmental Protection Authority)," Codrington said by phone from Perth.

"There has been only one on-site (EPA) visit last year, which resulted in a suggestion unrelated to the incident.

"Repairs to the tailing dam wall have been made under the EPA supervision," he added, without elaborating.

Hungary on Tuesday blamed Romania for the cyanide spill in the Tisza river. Hungarian towns have closed water intakes along the river which flows from Romania into Hungary, with officials saying there had been widespread deaths among birds and fish.

Romania said the incident was the worst in the past decade, and has ordered the closure of the Aurul plant, based in the northeast city of Baia Mare, pending investigations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Esmeralda played down Hungarian reports of the damage, saying a cyanide overflow had occurred on Sunday, January 30, from the Aurul SA project dam, caused by heavy rain and snowfalls at the plant.

"It is important to stress that the incident was an overflow and not a structural failure or a leak," Esmeralda said in a statement issued in Australia.

The Romanian government is a 45 percent shareholder in Aurul with private Romanian interests owning the other five percent.

Romania's Deputy Environment Minister Anton Vlad is to meet Hungary's environment minister in the Romanian city of Oradea on Thursday to discuss the incident.

Original article