Cyanide spill among worst river pollutions, says UN

BELGRADE, Feb 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) A United Nations expert said on Friday that a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold mine that has killed thousands of fish in Hungary and Yugoslavia was one of the worst river pollution accidents in Europe.

"The accident has resulted in a total catastrophe for aquatic life, flora and fauna in the rivers," Pekka Haavisto, head of the UN Environment Program's Balkan Task Force (UNEP) told Reuters in Belgrade.

The cyanide, blamed on a spill last month at a Romanian gold smelter half owned by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd, was carried by the Tisza through Hungary to Yugoslavia where it continued flowing down the Danube.

Haavisto, who visited the mine on Wednesday, said he was shocked there were no extra safeguards, so when the dam was broken, everything entered directly into the river.

He said the spill could not be compared to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster as consequences of radiation on human health and environment were different.

"It is comparable to the Sandoz river accident which polluted 500 km of the river Rhine in 1986 and a couple of years ago a mining accident in Spain which polluted the big delta area there," he said after a news conference.


"I think we have to have much more strict rules in the mining sector in countries of this region so this type of accident will not happen," he said.

Haavisto said a European Union task force would soon issue a report on the estimate of the damage, adding that probably some 90 percent of aquatic life had died and that the recovery would take a long time.

But he said there was no danger for people to use water in the future.

Haavisto's team, which came to Yugoslavia to follow up work on four identified environmental hot spots following NATO's bombing campaign last year, was instructed by UNEP to examine consequences of the cyanide spill in the Serbian part of the Danube.

The level of the measured cyanide at 17 locations in the past few days showed no immediate threat to human health, but tests near a Dam with Romania showed cyanide levels were toxic for certain fish.

"There is certainly still some risk for the fish life of the Danube," Haavisto told the news conference.

Serbia on Friday lifted a ban on the use of Tisza and Danube river water saying the concentration of the poisonous chemical was now far below allowable levels.

Original article