EU creates task force to study cyanide leak impact

BRUSSELS, Feb 27, 2000 -- (Reuters) The European Commission announced the creation of a task force on Friday to assess environmental damage caused to a major European river system by a cyanide leak at the Romanian Baia Mare gold mine.

The task force will try to coordinate work already under way by the United Nations Environment Program and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River.

It will also try to identify and control any other potential risk sites along western Europe's longest waterway, but will not be involved in the clean-up and final conclusions may not come before the end of the year, task force head Tom Garvey said.

"We will not supervise or have a management function in the cleaning. We will be there to make observations of what needs to be done and the implications for the future," said Garvey.

The Baia Mare task force is expected to start work in about a week. It will share the premises of the Danube commission in Vienna.

The spill at the Romanian mine partly owned by Australian firm Esmeralda Exploration Ltd poisoned the Tisza River in neighboring Hungary and spread to Yugoslavia where the Tisza joins the Danube.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said the disaster would not compromise ongoing EU membership talks with countries in the region but that it had reinforced her belief that they should not be given too much time to adopt the bloc's strict environmental standards.

Romania and Hungary have applied to join the 15-nation bloc.

"The accident does not affect the accession process and procedures," she told a news conference.

"But we'll try to keep the transitional periods (to adopt EU environment laws after accession) as short as possible," she said, adding that in some areas, which she did not specify, new entrants may have to respect EU rules from the start.

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