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News Release

One Year After Romanian Cyanide Spill, New Report Exposes Shortcomings in Industry-Government Disaster Response

Source: 
Mineral Policy Center - MiningWatch Canada

MiningWatch Canada and Other Environmental Groups Issue Call to Action to Prevent Future Cyanide Disasters, Point to Danger at Many of Today's Gold Mines

Ottawa ON (January 30, 2001) — One year after 3.5 million cubic feet of cyanide-laden toxic mine waste spilled into a tributary of the Danube river killing all aquatic life in a 250-mile stretch of the river system. One year later, a report released by the Mineral Policy Center in Washington shows that little has changed in terms of government oversight or industry practice and that such a disaster could occur again today in Romania, Canada and other regions.

In an Issue Paper to be published on January 30th, the spill anniversary, renowned geochemical and hydrogeological expert Robert Moran, Ph.D., finds serious shortcomings in the spill response and the report issued last year by the United Nations Environment Programme. In the paper, More Cyanide Uncertainties: Lessons From the Baia Mare, Romania Spill — Water Quality and Politics, Dr. Moran investigates some of the regulatory shortfalls that may have led to the spill and discusses shortcomings in how the spill was studied in followup reports. The report's findings include the following:

  • Regulatory agencies in Romania did not have sufficient regulatory tools or resources to conduct adequate oversight of the mine. These conditions exist in mining regions around the world.
  • In the aftermath of the spill testing was not done for cyanide breakdown compounds like thiocyanates, radioactive constituents, and many heavy metals. Thus any conclusions are incomplete. Inadequate testing is a common problem worldwide, even in countries like Canada.
  • The United Nations Environment Program report used lax water quality standards in assessing impacts of the spill.
  • Mining company officials appear to have under-predicted the potential pollution risks of the mine, a practice that is common in the industry.
  • Financial assurance is usually inadequate or lacking, thus mining companies may avoid paying for potential environmental impacts.

And these problems aren't just found in Europe and developing parts of the world, others attest.

"One year ago today a 250-mile stretch of the Danube River system was devastated by a toxic bullet of cyanide and heavy metals from a gold mine in Romania. Yet, in the last year governments and mining companies have failed to act to prevent the next spill," said MPC President Stephen D'Esposito. "Here in the U.S., we face the threat of a similar disaster from a gold mine near the Salmon River in Idaho. Dr. Moran's report makes the case that the time to act is now."

"In the Yukon in northern Canada, cyanide-laced waters continue to leak from the tailings ponds at the closed Ketza, Mt. Nansen and Viceroy mines, killing fish and impairing the health of the indigenous people who live downstream," said Joan Kuyek of MiningWatch Canada.

"A year after the Romanian spill the issue is off the political agenda as officials in Hungary, Romania, and Brussels have tried to forget what happened and what was not done to mitigate the impacts of the spill, assess its impacts, and avoid further ones," said Jozsef Feiler of Friends of the Earth, Hungary. "Cyanide from Romanian sources recently poisoned the rivers of Moldova. The rivers of the Carpathian basin are waiting for a similar or more disastrous accident. More cyanide uncertainties are ahead and we did not learn the lessons from the past accident. Probably this is the worst part of the disaster."

Dr. Moran, MiningWatch Canada co-ordinator Joan Kuyek, and other spokespeople can be made available for interviews upon request. Photos are also available upon request.

If you are receiving this message electronically, an embargoed pre-release copy of the report is attached. Pre-release copies of the report can also be obtained by contacting Joan Kuyek at tel. (613) 569-3439 or joan@(at)miningwatch.ca.

The paper will officially be released on Jan. 30, the first anniversary of the spill. It will be available for download in PDF format at the Mineral Policy Center's web site.