Australian experts probe Romania cyanide spill

BUCHAREST, Feb 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) Experts from an Australian gold mining company blamed for a cyanide leak that polluted a major European river system arrived in Romania on Tuesday to probe what caused the spill.

Esmeralda Exploration Ltd, which has a 50 percent stake in the Baia Mare gold plant in northern Romania, has admitted cyanide had overflowed from a tailing dam into the Tisza River, which flows into the Danube, Europe's largest waterway.

"Our role is to try to understand the circumstances of the spill and the events that followed it," David Gwyter of Esmeralda told state television.

"We want to be talking to professional people in the waters department and in the fisheries department...," he added.

A cyanide-containing slurry had overflowed over a 25 yard (meter) length of the tailings dam at a smelter.

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

Prosecutors and police in the town of Baia Mare said on Tuesday they had started criminal investigations into the accident, which killed thousands of fish in neighboring Hungary and Yugoslavia.

"We launched investigations on charges of causing accidental pollution by lack of surveillance of the new works, of the equipment and technologies of treatment and neutralization," prosecutor Robert Cazanciuc said on state television.

A team of experts from the European Commission and the U.N. Environment Program is expected in Bucharest on Friday to evaluate the damage caused by the spill, one of the worst river pollution accidents in Europe.

The polluted waters are now moving downstream 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, through a delta rich in wildlife.

Original article