River Danube Poisoned by Cyanide

February 15, 2000

At the end of January, a breach in a retention dam at the Aural gold mine site in Baia Mare released more than 3.5 million cubic feet of highly toxic cyanide into the Tisza River, a tributary of the Danube. The site, located in Northern Romania, is operated by the Australian gold-mining company, Esmerelda Exploration.

Local authorities have cut off water supplies, and huge numbers of dead fish, birds and other wildlife are being removed from the Tisza and the Danube.

The spill, which European environmentalists have characterized as Europe’s worst accident since Chernobyl, is now traveling down the river Danube through Hungary and into Yugoslavia. Officials of both countries have called for aid from the European Community, and have pledged to seek compensation for the damages from the mining company and from Romania.

In a BBC interview, mine manager Phil Evans said the company regretted the accident, but added, “There’s no conclusive evidence that the damages occurring in the Danube are due to cyanide.” A chemical expert in the same interview also questioned the possibility that such serious damages could be caused at such a distance from the spill, as cyanide oxidizes rapidly in water, and its toxic effects are therefore diminished rather rapidly.

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