Cyanide pollutes YU waters

BELGRADE, Feb 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) Cyanide that leaked from a Romanian gold smelter has fouled a northern Yugoslav river, prompting a ban on use of water, fishing and sales of fish and causing panic in some towns, local media said on Saturday.

"What we have here is no longer pollution but poisoning," the mayor of the northern Yugoslav town of Senta, Attila Juhasz, told Belgrade's independent B2-92 radio.

His counterpart from the nearby town of Kanjiza, Istvan Baskonyi, said: "Some estimates say this cyanide will disappear in about a month from the Tisza river system."

But, speaking to the same radio, he warned that "heavy metals will remain in the mud of the riverbed. Some say that it will take up to 10 years for the habitat to recover.

"I can safely say that more than 80 percent of the animal life in the Tisza is going to become extinct. The Tisza will practically become a dead river in 10-15 hours' time in the municipality of Kanjiza," Baskonyi said.

Juhasz said a meeting between Serbian government officials and representatives of towns threatened by the cyanide spill was to be held in Senta later on Saturday.

The cyanide spilled from a Romanian gold smelter, flowed down river through Hungary and reached Yugoslavia on Thursday, the country's water authorities said.

On Friday night, according to Yugoslavia's official news agency Tanjug, the cyanide level dropped to 1.1 milligrams per litre - still 11 times the maximum tolerable amount - at the Hungarian town of Szeged bordering Yugoslavia.


Politika said that tributary waters at Szeged had thinned the cyanide before it reached Yugoslav territory.

By later on Saturday, the cyanide count had fallen to 0.07 milligrams per liter in the Tisza and the chemical was expected to drift into the much larger Danube river by early on Sunday, Serbian Agriculture Minister Jovan Babovic said.

He told state Radio Belgrade that there was no danger to local communities as long as water and fish from the Tisza were not consumed.

On Friday, many dead fish were spotted floating along the Yugoslav side of the river and emergency teams were formed to deal with the situation, the Belgrade newspapers Politika and Blic said.

Politika quoted Predrag Polic, a Belgrade Chemistry School lecturer, as saying emergency measures would have to be taken if the pollution level reached 1.5 mg per liter.

He said the inhabitants of towns and villages along the Tisza river had already been warned to avoid using the polluted water and fish for any purposes. Polic said the pollution level would gradually drop to a tolerable amount.

Blic quoted officials of the health protection center in northern town of Subotica as warning that the situation could become critical at the Becej dam, 90 km (55 miles) to the south where a large number of dead fish were expected to pile up.

Original article