New Romania river pollution near Ukraine, Hungary

BUCHAREST, Mar 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) Romanian officials said on Tuesday that lead residues from a Romanian mine had again polluted a river that flows into the Danube, two months after a cyanide spill in the area caused a major environmental disaster.

The Environment Ministry said heavy rainfalls and melting snow had broken a five-meter stretch of the wall of a dam at the state-run Baia Borsa lead and zincs mine for the second time this month.

A ministry statement said the incident had occurred more than 24 hours ago but that plant managers had failed to report it immediately.

The Ministry said that authorities in Ukraine and Hungary had been notified of the incident.

Samples of water from the river Tisa which flows near the Baia Borsa mine showed traces of lead at 2.7 times above permitted levels.

The samples were taken at a point where the Tisa crosses from Romania into Ukraine and Hungary before flowing into the Danube in Yugoslavia.

The latest incident came while Environment Minister Romica Tomescu was in the area with a World Bank delegation assessing ways in which the Bank might support Romania's efforts to deal with big industrial polluters.

Tomescu and World Bank director for Romania Andrew Vorkink visited a gold mine in the area, the site of a spill of some 100,000 cubic meters of cyanide-laced water, which killed thousands of fish in Hungary and Yugoslavia last month.

"We are particularly concerned in supporting the Romanian government to protect three major issues - health, environment and wildlife and the livelihood and jobs of people living in this area," Vorkink told reporters in the northwest mining town of Baia Mare.

The World Bank, he said, would work together with the European Union on programs to prevent future ecological accidents, as well as help retrain Romanian miners laid off as the country scales down its large extractive sector.

"We are currently preparing two loans for Romania, which will be applicable for this activity," Vorkink said, without giving details of the projected loans.

One planned loan, he said, involved forestry and also had an environment component. The other planned facility was "a large rural development loan" geared towards financing the development of water supply and infrastructure in rural areas.

Vorkink and Tomescu also met the Australian manager of the Aurul gold mine, based in Baia Mare, which is half-owned by an Australian mining company.

After the late January spill at the Aurul mine, the environment ministry had warned the state-owned Remin mining monopoly, which holds 45 percent in the plant, to increase security at its tailings dams and its other mines in the area.

On Tuesday, the ministry said it had suspended Remin's operating license for the tailing dam at the Baia Borsa lead and zinc plant, which employs 2,400 miners.

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