New mine pollution warning in Romania

BUCHAREST, Apr 26, 2000 -- (AFP) A Romanian government official warned Tuesday of a new pollution catastrophe at a mine in the center of the country, after three spills in the last few months sparked international concern.

The local government representative of Alba, Ananie Garbovean, issued the warning in connection with a waste storage pond at Abrud containing tens of millions of waste material including heavy metals.

"An ecological catastrophe with serious consequences could occur," he wrote in a letter to the national environment ministry, referring to the 100-hectare lake at Valea Sesei.

Seepage due to chemical and microbiological reasons had already tainted underground water courses as well as the nearby Aries river, he said, warning that some 150,000 people are already directly at threat from the pollution.

The environment ministry, accused of passivity and incompetence by a number of environmental groups, passed on responsibility for the issue to the industry ministry, as it has done before.

According to a report presented Tuesday by Environment Minister Romica Tomescu, the safety of almost half -- 51 -- of 109 such storage lakes in Romania could not be guaranteed in case of flooding.

The report said that 22 had no action plans in case of accidental pollution, while 26 others had not protection plans in case of flooding.

Three spills at two gold mines in northern Romania sparked pollution in February and March, notably the first one when 100,000 cubic meters of cyanide-tainted water poisoned neighboring Hungary's second largest river, the Tisza, before flowing into the Danube.

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