Romania warns neighbors over cyanide spill

BUCHAREST, Feb 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Romania has banned water intake and fishing on its stretch of the Danube and has warned its neighbors that a cyanide spill which killed thousands of fish in Hungary and Yugoslavia is moving slowly downriver.

The Romanian Environment Ministry said the cyanide, which leaked from a Romanian gold mine two weeks ago, had reached the reservoir of the Iron Gates hydroelectric plant on Wednesday, and was moving down it at three km (two miles) per hour.

"As a precaution, starting on February 15, steps have been taken to ban the use of water from the Danube for drinking and household use, as well as to ban fishing in the Danube," said a ministry statement.

It also said the cyanide concentration was expected to drop significantly over the next 24 hours.

"So far there have been no dead fish, birds or other animals," it said, quoting levels of 0.33 milligrams per liter, or 33 times the permitted level, when the spill reached the Romanian section of the Danube early on Tuesday.

The Danube forms Romania's border with Bulgaria over more than 800 km (500 miles) before forking into a delta, one of whose branches marks the border with Ukraine. The delta is the site of one of Europe's major nature reserves.

The ministry said the cyanide concentration in the Moldova Noua section of the Danube, as the spill reached the area early on Wednesday, had been 0.196 milligrams per liter, or 19 times the permitted level.

The slurry leaked from a tailings dam at the Aurul gold mine in northwest Romania two weeks ago and was carried into Hungary's picturesque Tisza River, killing thousands of fish, before flowing into the Danube in Yugoslavia.

The ministry said Romania's International Center for Accidental Pollution of the Danube had informed similar institutions in Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine of the progress of the pollution.

Romanian Environment Minister Romica Tomescu met Pekka Haavisto, a former Finnish environment minister who heads the Balkans Task Force of the United Nations' Environment Programs.

Tomescu and Haavisto were to fly to the city of Baia Mare. They were to be joined on Thursday by European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom and Hungarian Environment Minister Pepo Pal to inspect the dam where the spill occurred.

The Aurul SA plant, half-owned by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd, has admitted that cyanide slurry leaked from its tailings dam, but has said the extent of the accident was exaggerated.

Original article