Romania to raise gold mine dam wall

BUCHAREST, Feb 22, 2000 -- (Reuters) Romanian authorities will decide on Tuesday how to raise the wall of a dam at a local gold mine, through which cyanide-laced slurry allegedly escaped into a major river system.

The dam wall at the Aurul mine was breached late last month, probably as a result of a thaw in the icy temperatures.

Thousands of fish have died as the poison spread its way through the Tisza and Danube rivers.

"To avoid potential risks and a repeat of the situation at the Aurul mine...officials will consider how to raise by another 2 meters (6.55 feet) the mine's tailings dam wall," Ioan Gherhes, head of the local environment protection office said from Baia Mare, in northwest Romania.

Gherhes said Romanian experts, expecting another thaw of the ice-bound dam, would also consider evacuating some cyanide-carrying slurry into a nearby reservoir fitted with filtering equipment.

"This is a safe, routine procedure, which was used after the Aurul mine was closed on January 31," Gherhes told Reuters.

The mine's 50-percent owners, Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd, have admitted that cyanide-containing slurry had overflown into a local river, when the dam wall was breached.

They blamed the failure on heavy rain and snowfalls, saying that the dam wall had been reinforced since the accident occurred on January 30.

A Romanian state-run company owns 45 percent of the mine, with the remaining five percent held by private local interests.

The poison is now moving down the Danube, which forms Romania's border with Bulgaria over more than 500 miles (800 kilometers).

Both countries have banned water intake and Danube fishing as the spill moves downriver, towards the Black Sea, where it flows through a delta area rich in wildlife.

So far, neither Romania nor Bulgaria have reported fish or animals killed by the spill. Latest Danube water measurements taken on Monday, when the poison flowed near the Romanian port of Turnu Magurele showed a diluted cyanide content - but still seven times higher than permitted levels.

Original article