EU task force begins probing cyanide spill

BRUSSELS, Mar 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) A European Union task force on Monday began probing a cyanide spill which devastated an eastern European river network.

The task force was set up to investigate a cyanide spill from a gold smelter in the Baia Mare area of Romania which polluted several major rivers in eastern Europe six weeks ago.

It began work a day after Hungary asked the EU to identify potential trouble spots in neighbouring Romania after its second biggest river, the Tisza, was contaminated by a second spill from Romania.

The EU's environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said in a statement the second spill from the state-run Baia Borsa lead and zinc mine in northern Romania on Friday underlined the need for the task force.

"The latest incident in Baia Borsa has underlined the great importance and urgency of the work of this task force. It also demonstrates the need to strengthen our capabilities for civil protection," she said.

The task force spent its first meeting mapping out the work ahead, agreeing to find the causes of the original cyanide spill.

The European Commission said it would also assess damage and propose ways to repair the environmental damage. But it stressed it could not be involved in negotiating compensation.

It said it would identify other "hot spots" in the mining industries and suggest ways to reduce risks, including amending EU regulations if necessary.

The task force's chairman, Tom Garvey, will visit the scene of the accident on March 27 and 28, the statement said.

Both Romania and Hungary are involved in negotiations on EU membership. One of the toughest tasks they face is to bring their environment up to EU standards.

Original article