UN starts sampling Danube after Romanian cyanide spillFebruary 16, 2000
BELGRADE, Serbia, Feb. 15 -- United Nations scientists began sampling Danube water today after a cyanide spill in Romania contaminated rivers and killed fish in Yugoslavia and Hungary.
Serbian experts are also testing the Danube and the Tisza River, which suffered the worst damage after cyanide poured into streams from a dam on Jan. 30 at a gold mine near Baia Mare, Romania.
Environment Minister Branislav Blazic said there were fears of "a real graveyard" on the bottom of the Tisza, which flows into the Danube. "The Tisza, as an international river, has been killed for many years to come," the Serbian minister said.
Hungary and Serbia have demanded that Romania pay compensation for the damage, and the Serbs have threatened to sue if their demands are not met.
Hungary asked the United Nations for an independent team of assessment experts, said Donato Kiniger-Passigli, a spokesman for the Unite Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva.
The World Health Organization expressed concern that heavy metals like lead and cadmium might have also entered the water.
A delegation from the mine owner, Esmeralda Ltd. of Australia, was scheduled to arrive in Bucharest today and travel to the mine on Wednesday. The company has denied responsibility, saying the extent of poisoning had been exaggerated. A cyanide solution helps separate ore from rock.
In Switzerland, the World Wide Fund for Nature, known in North America as the World Wildlife Fund, said that 19 species of protected fish lived in the Tisza and that "this spill has, in practical terms, eradicated all life" along a stretch of up to 250 miles. "We won't know the real extent of the damage until an evaluation can be carried out in spring," the group said. "But we know already that the rehabilitation of the river will take decades."
On Monday, tons of dead, rotting fish were pulled out of the Tisza and the Danube in Yugoslavia and Romania. Many more dead fish are believed to be on the bottoms.
Steve D'Esposito, president of the Mineral Policy Center, an environmental group in Washington that monitors mining, said the spill was comparable in size and environmental effects to a cyanide spill in southern Colorado in 1992 that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates will cost $170 million to clean up.