Romania denies new river pollution scare

BUCHAREST, Mar 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Romania denied on Wednesday that a new spill of heavy metal residues from one of its mines was on its way to Hungary's Tisza River.

Ukrainian authorities told Hungary earlier on Wednesday that the pollution had come from the Baia Borsa mine.

"There has been no second leakage of lead or other residues from the Baia Borsa mine," Ioan Gherhes, environment chief for the northern Maramures district told Reuters.

"There has been no new burst of the dam," insisted Gherhes, who accompanied Romanian Environment Minister Romica Tomescu to the mine, where a dam burst last Friday, releasing about 20,000 tonnes of waste containing heavy metal residues.

Germany's Deputy Environment Minister, Gila Altmann, who also toured the site of the Baia Borsa mine with Tomescu, urged Bucharest to do more to combat pollution.

"The situation is very grave, and we want Romania to solve its environmental problems as quickly as possible, especially those regarding cross-border waterways," Altmann told reporters shortly before leaving Romania for Hungary.

A Hungarian water authority spokesman in Budapest said the latest spillage reported by Ukraine looked as though it involved lead, zinc and copper.

But Gherhes said samples from rivers near the Baia Borsa mine flowing into the Tizsa had shown "no changes in the levels of heavy metals registered after Friday's accident".

The latest spills threaten to devastate the upper section of the Tisza, which six weeks ago escaped a cyanide spill from a different Romanian mine that practically wiped out all life in the lower reaches.

An increasingly frustrated Hungary, which regards the Tisza as a national treasure, has asked Romania to identify and shut down industrial plants that pose further environmental hazards.

On Monday it handed proposals to Romania's ambassador in Budapest including the drafting of an inventory of possible future sources of pollution.

"Romania reserves the right to make its own analysis of Hungary's proposals, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ireny Comaroschi said in Bucharest.

Romania has yet to ratify an environmental accord concluded with Hungary two years ago.

Earlier this week, Romanian Environment Minister Romica Tomescu said his ministry had identified 55 tailings dams operated by state mines in northern Romania which he said were potential polluters.

U.N. experts currently taking samples from the Tisza in Hungary said they had learnt from Hungarian authorities that the latest spill was about 35 km (22 miles) long but was floating downstream in several pockets.

"We just have to wait another couple of hours to say whether this third spill is as serious as the second one was," said Rudolf Muller, an expert working on the U.N. team told Reuters.

"It's difficult to say now what type of impact heavy metal residues will have on the ecological system of the river."

The U.N. team will go to Baia Borsa on Thursday, he said.

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