Update Romania/Hungary/Yugoslavia: 100 tons of cyanide

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Nando Times

"Yugoslav scientists warn of contaminated food in wake of cyanide spill


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (February 16, 2000 10:22 a.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com)

Yugoslav ecologists Wednesday warned of long-term food poisoning in the wake of a cyanide spill and dangerous metal concentrations that already have killed tons of fish in the contaminated Danube and Tisza rivers.

"Dead fish are covering the rivers, and 400,000 birds that find winter shelter in the Yugoslav part of the Danube River are threatened," said ecologist Radoje Lausevic.

He said there was a great danger that the river pollution - which was dozens of times above the normal levels - could contaminate the food chain through groundwater and the water used for irrigation.

In Budapest, Janos Borbely of the Hungarian Environment Protection Ministry said more than 100 tons of cyanide "got into the river and approximately the same amount of metals," referring to the Romanian Lapus River, which was the first contaminated.

Authorities in Serbia have warned farmers not to eat or sell food that grows near the Tisza and Danube rivers or is otherwise affected by adjoining or underwater currents. They also have warned of dangerous metal concentrations in the rivers.


As of Wednesday morning, the cyanide concentration in the Danube in Romania was four times higher than European Union-accepted levels, and almost 20 times higher than the levels permissible in Romania.

"The dilution (of the contamination) did not happen to the extent expected," said Septimius Mara, from the monitoring unit of the Romanian Ministry of Environment.

Australia-based Esmeralda Ltd., co-owner of the Baia Mare gold mine, has denied responsibility for the cyanide spill, saying the extent of poisoning had been exaggerated. Romania also has said the damage was overstated and that it has suffered the most.


By this morning, communities along the Serbian section of the Tisza and Danube rivers said they had retrieved and buried at least 12 tons of poisoned fish.

Local villages were covered with signs warning people not to eat fish from the rivers. Farms along the riverbank were cautioned not to use well water, since the cyanide is likely to have seeped into groundwater. Hunters and rangers reported seeing the first dead land animals, which presumably drank water from the rivers.


"No one will ever be able to come up with an exact figure in terms of the cost because no one can say what the flora and fauna of the Tisza River are worth," he said. "However, we can put a price on the fish, on agriculture, tourism."


"Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 15:22 GMT Firm rejects cyanide damage claims

Australian mining firm Esmeralda Exploration has described as "politically motivated" many claims of huge ecological damage resulting from a Romanian cyanide spill.

Company officials arrived in Romania on Wednesday to inspect the Aurul gold mine in Baia Mare, which it co-owns.

Hungary and Yugoslavia have blamed the plant for a leak of cyanide which they say has killed hundreds of tonnes (2200 pounds) of fish in the Tisza and Danube rivers.

But a spokesman for Esmeralda refused to accept that Aurul was to blame.

"The vast majority of the emotive material that is coming out of Hungary, Serbia, and certainly from some sections of the media, has got to be treated as purely speculative, and in many cases politically motivated," said Chris Codrington.

He suggested that the fish could have been killed by chemical spills from industrial sites along the Tisza, dynamite explosions used to break up winter ice or raw sewage pumped into the river.

Asked about the Hungarian claims, Mr Codrington said: "Lying might be a little bit strong, but exaggeration is not unreasonable."


-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), February 16, 2000


The company is going to look pretty stupid if the dead fish are analyzed and a strong link to cyanide and the fishkill is established.

-- X (X@X.com), February 16, 2000.

The Boston Globe had a blurb this morning that lead and cadmium were also released into the river, and may prove more toxic than the cyanide.

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), February 16, 2000.

I'd have to agree with that Brooks. Lead has killed a lot more people over the years than cyanide. :)

-- (@ .), February 16, 2000.

The Boston Globe item (indicating my recollection may not have been fully recollecting):

http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/047/nation/Man_kills_himself_in_Tian anmen_blast+.shtml

BELGRADE - Serbia's Agriculture Ministry warned yesterday of dangerous metal concentrations in an East European river already contaminated by a cyanide spill. The ministry said laboratory tests showed considerably increased iron and copper levels in the Tisza river, where the cyanide spill has wiped out virtually all life. The cyanide poured into streams from a containment dam at a gold mine near the Romanian town of Baia Mare on Jan. 30. The World Health Organization earlier had expressed concern that heavy metals such as lead and cadmium also might have escaped into the water, posing potentially a far greater health threat. (AP)

-- Brooks (brooksbie@hotmail.com), February 16, 2000.


Romanian Cyanide Spill Poisons More Than Environment 2351 GMT, 000214

On Jan. 31 a massive chemical spill at a gold mine near Oradea, Romania, contaminated local waterways, consequently scouring most life from the Tisa River in Hungary and Yugoslavia. Now, two weeks later, the contaminated water has reached the Danube. The legacy of this spill threatens not only the countries on the Tisa and the Danube, but the Wests resolve to isolate Serbia as well.

Initial concern focused on the toxicity of the cyanide, which is used in the leaching process of gold. But other pollutants from the mine spill include heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, which cannot be flushed out as easily as cyanide.

Further downstream, the spill will exacerbate the problems of those who depend upon the Danube. During the Kosovo War, NATO forces destroyed all of the bridges in Yugoslavia that crossed the Danube. The rubble from these destroyed bridges continues to block traffic. The country hardest hit by this lack of commerce is European Union (EU) applicant Romania, the country most dependent upon the Danube.

Closer to the source of the spill is sanctions-bound Yugoslavia. Serbias northern province of Vojvodina is the source of almost all of Yugoslavias grain supplies. With average rainfall similar to that of the arid American Great Plains, Serbia depends upon the Tisa for irrigation.

The concern in Vojvodina is not over cyanide. Cyanide is water- soluble. By the time Serbia will need to irrigate the plains of Vojvodina after planting, the cyanide will be all but washed into the Black Sea, 500 miles downstream.

However, if the heavy metals enter Vojvodinas irrigation system, they could potentially cause significantly more long-term damage. Heavy metals become more concentrated as they move up the food chain, in a manner similar to the pesticide DDT. High quantities of lead within an agricultural basin such as Vojvodina can drastically affect an entire population.

The spill will force Serbian authorities to not draw water from the Tisa for irrigation until the heavy metals are flushed away. A lack of irrigation will leave the Serbian breadbasket with significantly lower yields, compounding Serbias already serious food shortage. This drop in the food supply  however temporary  will force the EU to reconsider its sanctions regime for humanitarian reasons.

A substantial influx of food aid would require a clearing of the river debris leftover from the NATO bombing, as well as a rebuilding of bridges to facilitate food distribution. All of Serbias neighbors would welcome the clearing and rebuilding, but such events would inevitably be heralded as victories for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The West would find it difficult, morally and practically, to re-impose sanctions once Vojvodina was productive again. And by then many of the severed transit links would be replaced.

If Serbias primary agricultural region were anywhere else, this would be the end of the story. However, the now-polluted Tisa also forms the eastern boundary of the majority Hungarian section of Yugoslavia. Hungary is unlikely to wait for EU approval before rushing to the aid of Serbias 400,000 ethnic Hungarians, 300,000 of who are conveniently concentrated within 50 miles of the border with Hungary. This would deepen the policy split among the United States, the EU and countries on the Danube who still have to deal with the fallout of the Kosovo war. If the situation is truly as dire as Hungary and Yugoslavia have reported, then the mine spill will eventually poison far more than just a few tons of fish.

-- Bill P (porterwn@one.net), February 16, 2000.

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