Hungary criticizes Romania in latest pollution case

BUDAPEST, Mar 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Hungary said on Saturday that Romania had failed to provide it with data about Friday's spill from a Romanian mine and urged international bodies to take steps to avoid further disasters.

Romania played down the effects of the spill of 20,000 tonnes of heavy metal residues from the state-run Baia Borsa lead and zinc mine into the river Vaser and said the situation was under control.

The spill of heavy metal residues, which is expected to reach the Hungarian river Tisza later on Saturday, comes weeks after a cyanide spill from another Romanian mine caused a major environmental disaster and polluted several major rivers in eastern Europe.

"It is unacceptable that the Romanian authorities in this very serious situation... do not provide us with adequate data," Environment Minister Pal Pepo told Hungarian radio.

"We take this second pollution on the Tisza very seriously, it cannot be separated from the first cyanide catastrophe," Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said.

Horvath said the Foreign Ministry would ask international environmental organizations to carry out a comprehensive survey to locate further potential environment disaster spots in Romania.


Romanian Environment Minister Romica Tomescu said the incident did not amount to an ecological disaster.

"Things are under control now. I want to make it clear that we are not talking about a catastrophe," Tomescu told state radio.

"The samples taken today from the Tisa (Tisza) river show that the environment indicators are within accepted limits, except for the concentrations of zinc and iron," Tomescu said.

The radio said reports in the Hungarian media had put zinc concentration at 50 times higher than normal levels and that samples had revealed the presence of lead in the water.

But Tomescu said analyses carried out by Romanian experts had shown smaller concentrations of metals in the river.

"Zinc concentration is between five to nine times higher than the normal level. But zinc has only a minor effect on the aquatic life," Tomescu said.

"Iron concentration is up to three times higher but still within the limits accepted under the cross-border pollution accord we have with Hungary. Lead was not found in samples. So Hungary cannot comment on these results," he said.

Bucharest has warned officials in Ukraine and Hungary about the pollution of the Vaser, as well as alerting a Vienna-based body monitoring the Danube, Europe's main waterway.

Hungarian Environment Minister Pepo, who is currently at the Ukrainian-Hungarian border where the Tisza enters Hungary, was supposed to meet Tomescu later Saturday.

However, officials at the Romanian embassy in Budapest said this would not be possible as Tomescu had been trapped in heavy snow at the mine where the spill occurred after heavy rain and melting snow broke a dam at the pit owned by the state-run Remin mining monopoly.

Hungarian experts said the heavy metal residue spill would come down the Tisza very fast, along with flood waters from melting snow.

Due to the very high water level it will be impossible to divert the spill into an emergency reservoir, Eva Montsko, spokeswoman for the Hungarian government commissioner in charge of the pollution case, told Reuters.

"This is not like cyanide...this does not kill immediately, but builds up in organisms and could have a long-term serious detrimental impact to health," she added.

What makes this recent pollution really sad is that it will affect the upper part of the Tisza which managed to escape the cyanide spill, experts agreed.

Original article