Wallström pledges EU action on mine dangers

Commission to accelerate liability plans, identify potential disaster sites, review legislation

EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström has pledged to do more to prevent accidents similar to January's Romanian cyanide spill by identifying potentially vulnerable tailings dams around Europe and plugging gaps in EU legislation. The Commission is to lead a task force to investigate the incident and propose short and long-term action to remediate the damage.

Speaking today after visiting the stricken region, Ms Wallström said her directorate would pinpoint mining operation "hotspots" in both EU member states and accession countries by the end of the year. It would also examine whether existing EU legislation was sufficient, reinforce the Commission's existing civil protection unit and "accelerate" work to develop an EU law on environmental liability.

Top of the list of laws to be revisited, according to Commission officials, will be the Seveso II directive on major accident hazards. Mining operations are not covered by the law and are thus not required to draw up accident prevention measures. Four EU states - Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Italy - use mining techniques similar to those employed at the ill-fated Baia Mare mine, the Commission says. Major spills occurred at operations in Spain and Sweden in 1998.

On the Baia Mare spill itself, the commissioner said the EU was coordinating a damage assessment exercise, and had now received formal requests for assistance from both Hungary and Romania. The EU would make funds for the work available from either the Ispa or Phare programmes, she said, stressing that they would not be used for compensation purposes. The question of legal liability for the spill's effects was not an EU matter, she said. She added that the disaster would not hamper current EU accession talks with the countries involved.

Meanwhile, demands have been growing for the EU to create a permanent civil protection corps to intervene rapidly in the event of similar disasters (ENDS Daily 15 February). The Green/EFA group in the European parliament called yesterday for a "Green Berets" unit and said the EU needed "strong legislation" on civil liability for such incidents.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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