Hungary wants Romania pollution hazards identified

BUDAPEST, Mar 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) Hungary said on Sunday it would ask the European Union to identify potential environmental trouble spots in neighbouring Romania after spills there twice polluted one of Hungary's biggest rivers.

Hungary decided to ask for help from an EU task force after its second biggest river, the Tisza, was heavily contaminated by spills coming from Romania for the second time this year.

A cyanide spill from a gold smelter practically wiped out life in most of the Tisza six weeks ago, and heavy metal residues from another Romanian mine hit the river on Saturday.

Environment ministry officials said a 20-km spill containing zinc and lead well above permitted levels was moving downstream in the Tisza.

About 20,000 tonnes of heavy metal residues spilled into the Vaser river from the state-run Baia Borsa lead and zinc mine in northern Romania on Friday after heavy rain and melting snow burst a dam.

"These accidents coming one after the other raise the question of responsibility on the side of the Romanian state and Romanian authorities," Istvan Horvath, a foreign ministry official told a news conference on Sunday.

Pollution from across the frontier posed such a risk to Hungary's population and environment that Hungary needed to participate in mapping up and controlling potential hazards, he said.

About 96 percent of Hungary's rivers and streams originate outside the country, mostly in Romania and the Ukraine.

Horvath said Hungary would ask an EU task force including EU experts, international environmental bodies and representatives of the Hungarian and Romanian governments to help prevent further catastrophes.

The Council of Europe would also discuss the pollution of the Tisza, he said.

Both Hungary and Romania aspire to EU membership. Hungary hopes to join in 2003.

Hungarian experts have been analysing samples from the Tisza every hour in the past two days. Three UN experts were also expected to arrive in Hungary on Monday to help local authorities.

Original article