Europe’s Worst Ecological Disaster Since Chernobyl (2000)

Cyanide River (2000): A leak of cyanide near Baia Mare, Romania, into the Someș River by the gold mining company Aurul spelled disaster for the Hungarian fishing and culinary industries.

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When the tailings dam of the Esmeralda Explorations Gold Mine in Romania broke, it sent a torrent of cyanide and heavy metals into the Szamos and Tisza Rivers downstream in Hungary. Today both rivers are dead. The fishermen who harvested their riches must now shovel the carcasses of prime fish into skips. Fishing communities are desperate for compensation. Yet despite the evidence of disastrous pollution, officials from Esmeralda are in deep denial. It “could be increased salinity,” according to the spokesperson from the mine’s Australian co-owners. Yet with their stinging eyes and itchy throats the fishermen are angered by the mine rep’s response. “I would start by making him a good soup of fish poisoned by cyanide and making him eat it.” Up river in Romania the company are heightening the earthen banks of the mine’s wastewater pools. They blame unusually heavy snow for causing the January 30th spill. To Hungary’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson it’s a reason but not an excuse – the banks simply should have been designed to cope. As this more recent spill demonstrates, the mining operations are unsafe. ABC Australia speaks to those involved and affected by the disaster.

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ABC Australia – Ref. 0717

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