UN experts in Romania to assess cyanide spill

BUCHAREST, Feb 26, 2000 -- (Reuters) Twenty-five international experts will start a two-week tour of Romania and nearby states on Saturday to assess damage from a cyanide spill that caused major river pollution, a U.N. official said on Friday.

The cyanide leak at a Romanian gold mine last month caused one of Europe's biggest river pollution accidents.

"First of all we will look at the situation at the spot of the mine and make our own opinion about what actually happened," Fritz Schlingemann, director and regional representative for Europe of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), told Reuters.

He said the experts would consult on Saturday with the team of the Aurul SA gold mine in the northern town of Baia Mare, where slurry containing cyanide overflowed over a 25 meter (yard) length of the tailings dam last month.

Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd, which has 50 percent of Aurul, has admitted the failure at the dam wall, but blamed it on heavy rains and snowfalls. They said the wall had been reinforced after the accident.

Scientists and experts in disaster management, dam safety, ecotoxicology and hydrobiology from Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain will probe the environmental impact of the spill.

The poisoned water has killed thousands of fish in Romania's river Somes and in Hungary's Tisza, before moving down the Danube into Yugoslavia and back to Romania.

The team, including representatives of the European Commission, the World Health Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Europe, will meet authorities in Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia and will talk to people in the affected areas.

Three mobile laboratories will take samples around the mine over the weekend, moving on to the Tisza, in Hungary, and the Danube stretch in Yugoslavia, Schlingemann said.

"The experts will form their opinion about whether or not, and if so, what kind of impacts could be expected and make also some recommendations as to what can be done," Schlingemann said.

He said the fact-finding report would be presented at UNEP's office in Geneva in March and would be made available to all affected countries and to the European Commission.

Prosecutors in Baia Mare said earlier this week they had started criminal investigations into the accident.

On Friday, the 250 km (155 mile) long cyanide wave continued its move down the Danube towards the Black Sea, where the river empties its waters through a delta area rich in wildlife.

Original article