Bulgaria tests Danube water, awaits cyanide spill

KUDELIN, Bulgaria, Feb 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bulgaria tested River Danube water samples on Tuesday and waited for a cyanide spill which causing an environmental disaster upstream to reach its stretch of the waterway.

"We expect the poisonous spill to be well diluted by the time it reaches Bulgaria, but we have begun taking tests from the Danube at the border in case our estimates prove wrong," Boyan Tzolov, director of a Regional Environment Inspectorate, told Reuters.

Tzolov was speaking on board a border patrol boat from which environment monitors were taking samples from the Danube at Bulgaria's border with Serbia near Kudelin village, 180 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of the capital Sofia.

In Sofia, Environment Minister Evodokia Maneva said there was no evidence yet of cyanide pollution in the Bulgarian sector of the river. "We are monitoring the river closely and we are prepared to alert the population at the first sign of contamination," Maneva told Reuters.

Tests taken last weekend on the Bulgarian sector of Europe's largest waterway showed cyanide concentrations well below permitted levels.

Local fishing authorities have banned trading in fish, but many fishermen disregarded the warning and went on fishing, saying it was for their own consumption.

On Monday dead fish were seen floating past a Belgrade suburb further upstream, but Serbian authorities said the cyanide spill did not pose a danger to the Yugoslav capital as the concentrations were below the permitted ceiling.

On Tuesday Serbia's environment minister said the cyanide concentration had reached 50 times the maximum tolerable level at one point on the Danube on Sunday, but had fallen to 20 times the maximum along the left bank of the river on Monday.

The flood of cyanide, blamed on a spill last month at a Romanian gold smelter half owned by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd, flowed through Hungary into Serbia along the river Tisza, a northern tributary of the Danube.

Some 15 tons of dead fish were found in the river Tisza over the weekend, and environmentalists said the river was now practically dead and would need at least 10 years to recover.

Esmeralda has denied responsibility and said it is sending experts to Romania to prove its innocence.

Romania and Hungary are discussing seeking international aid to help deal with the ecological catastrophe, while Yugoslavia said it would file an international lawsuit over the spill.

Original article