Romania "acting too late" over cyanide spill

EU "regrets" failure to inform after eastern Europe's most serious river contamination

Romania has still not officially informed the EU about the 30 January cyanide spill that has killed wildlife and forced water supply closures over hundreds of kilometres of rivers running through Hungary, the European Commission said today. A spokesperson said EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström "regretted" the failure to inform, given that Romania had committed itself to high environmental protection standards in view of its accession to the Union.

The Commission had been informed of the accident only on 9 February, the spokesperson said, and then by the secretariat of the 1992 UN/ECE convention on transboundary effects of industrial accidents rather than by the Romanian authorities. Romania has not ratified the convention, which enters into force in April.

"This is a big, big spill," the spokesperson said, but the Commission "has no information on what the Romanian government is doing". The Commission could offer emergency help through its civil protection unit and could also make funds available under the Ispa programme for countries preparing to join the EU, the spokesperson continued. "But we haven't received any proposals or any requests for help".

According to Hungarian news agency, MTI, Romania has now agreed to pay damages to Hungary, which has borne the brunt of the contamination. The agency also reports that the chief of the Australian company running the Baia Mare mine from which the cyanide laced waters escaped has resigned.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has itself been attacked by pressure group the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), for failing to heed the lessons of a similar mine tailings dam burst in 1998 close to the Coto Doñana national park in Spain. The WWF stressed that it had warned that further such accidents would happen (ENDS Daily 19 April 1999) and complained that its recommendations had been ignored.

"Two years after the Doñana disaster, the European Commission has still not compiled an inventory of toxic waste lagoons," said the group's Jane Madgwick. "Instead it is talking about voluntary agreements with the mining industry when what is needed is regulation. The tragic cyanide spill into the Tisza river was a disaster waiting to happen. The only question is where will the next one strike?"

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; WWF, tel: +32 2 743 8800. See also reports on the cyanide spill from MTI.

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