EU group urges better mine waste controls

Baia Mare task force head calls for tighter regulations on mining, processing, early warning system

January's Baia Mare mine cyanide spill in Romania should serve as a wake-up call for regulators and mining companies throughout Europe, the head of an EU task force set up to investigate the accident said today. Head of the Baia Mare task force Tom Garvey said the leak could have caused a much bigger disaster than it did.

The task force was set up by EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström after cyanide-tainted wastewater from the Baia Mare tailings dam contaminated hundreds of kilometres of river in the Danube basin, affecting several neighbouring countries (ENDS Daily 10 February). It was asked to investigate the spill and make recommendations to avoid future accidents at mine waste facilities (ENDS Daily 14 March).

Relevant EU legislation should be strengthened and gathered together in an "industry guidance document" for greater transparency and accessibility, the report says. Notably, the Commission should develop an inventory of abandoned mining and processing sites leaking dangerous substances, which should be a first step toward an international agreement on the remediation of such sites.

Pollution monitoring and an early warning system should be set up for the whole Danube basin, the taskforce recommends. The international Danube protection commission should be given the necessary funding to take on this role.

The Romanian, Hungarian and Yugoslav authorities received praise for swiftly alerting citizens to the accident, but both Mr Garvey and Ms Wallström called on them to further increase transparency and enhance information to citizens and NGOs. It was also vital that they ratify and implement relevant pan-European UN conventions and protocols.

A raft of mining industry-specific policy recommendations is also made in the report. Notably, operators of tailing management facilities should have to obtain permits guaranteeing facility closure and aftercare. All cyanide deposition should be "in-plant" and not in tailings ponds. Water discharge systems for emergencies should be required at some types of plants.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 299 1111, press release and the Baia Mare Task Force report.

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