New Romanian pollution spill threatens Danube

BUCHAREST, Mar 11, 2000 -- (AFP) Heavy rain and melting snow sparked a new toxic flood alert Friday in Baia Mare, Romania, the scene of a serious cyanide leak last month which poisoned hundreds of tonnes of Danube fish, the Romanian environment ministry reported.

Officials in neighboring Hungary said some 20,000 tons of mud laced with heavy metals had begun to flow from a reservoir in a mine complex into rivers, and that it was expected to follow the same route as the last spill into the Tisza river.

But Romanian officials said much of the mud would not reach the river.

"Some 20,000 tons of metal-bearing waste stored in the Novat decantation lake at Baia-Borsa mine have poured through a 25 meter (yard) breach in the protecting dyke," Liliana Mara, a Romanian environment official, told AFP.

"Most of the waste has, however, been deposited at the base of the dam and in the adjacent reservoir amd only a small amount has found its way into the Vaser river," a tributary of the Tisza, she said.

Mine employees had taken steps to contain the overflow of polluting material, the ministry said in a statement.

Mara said however that Romania had warned Hungary and the Ukraine, through whose territory the Tisza flows, and the office of the Convention for the Protection of the Danube about the spill.

Hungary imposed a water quality alert on the Tisza river Friday after the flood warning, a Hungarian environment ministry official said.

Hungary expected the pollution to reach the Tisza in its territory shortly before Friday midnight, Deputy State Secretary Janos Borbely told a press conference.

The Tisza flows into the Danube in Yugoslavia and is its largest tributary.

The heavy metal pollution zinc, copper and lead as well as an unknown amount of cyanide according to a warning issued by Romania, said Borbely.

Romania played down the cyanide content in the polluted water, insisting what danger there was came form heavy metal deposits.

Experts warned however that these metal deposits could have a more serious long term effect. They accumulate in river mud and under the influence of other substances can generate powerful toxins.

The pollution this time is expected to effect a Hungarian section of the Somes river which remained untouched by a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold mine a month ago, Borbely said.

In that spill, 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-tainted water flowed along the Somes, the Tisza and the Danube and into the Black Sea after leaking from an Australian-owned gold mine near the scene of Friday's disaster.

Hungarian, Romanian and Ukrainian partner authorities have started water sampling in the second spill, and were in continuous cooperation, Borbely said.

According to Hungarian Environment Minister Pal Pepo, some 200 tonnes of fish died in Hungary after the end-January cyanide spill.

Original article