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Cyanide pollution in Danube still a cause for concern

Belgrade/Nairobi, 20 February 2000 - According to results from water samples taken between Pancevo and the Iron Gate 1 Dam (between 15 and 17 February) by scientists of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), levels of cyanide concentration in the river Danube in Yugoslavia are not an immediate threat to human health via drinking water supplies.

However, measurements indicate levels of concentration slightly above the recommended safe-levels with regards to toxicity for certain fish species near the Iron Gates 1 Dam with Romania and close monitoring of the pollution as it continues downstream is recommended.

The scientists, members of a joint UNEP/Habitat Balkans Task Force (BTF) team that were already working in Yugoslavia, took a series of water samples from the Danube near Pancevo (Tuesday) down to the Iron Gates Dam (yesterday), on the border between Yugoslavia and Romania. Eighteen samples were taken at different locations. At 17 locations, levels of cyanide concentration were within the safety limit for drinking water but at one (Iron Gates 1 Dam), the limit was slightly excessive. However, there was evidence of cyanide that could be toxic for certain fish species.

Earlier this week, as an emergency response to the cyanide spill at the Baia-Mare gold mine in northwestern Romania, the BTF scientists, together with one of their mobile laboratories, were asked by UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer, and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) to take water quality samples from the river Danube.

Balkans Task Force
The scientists are part of a group which started work last Sunday on detailed environmental clean- up feasibility studies at four sites in Serbia, (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor) identified by the BTF in its report, "The Kosovo Conflict - Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements," as "hot spots" where pollution is serious and poses a threat to human health.

During the week, the BTF team comprising eight experts from five countries and working with two mobile laboratories, have been conducting an analysis of the specific activities and technical requirements at the four "hot spots." In a positive development, the scientists, which include two representatives from the Swiss-led FOCUS group, have also discovered that some of BTF's earlier recommendations have already been acted on. These include:

 

  • Clean-up of exposed mercury at the Pancevo industrial complex
  • Renewal of electricity supplies to the power plant at Bor with the consequence that severe air pollution from sulphur dioxide emissions has been reduced to pre-NATO conflict levels
  • Removal of some of the PCB contamination at the Bor transformer station

The current BTF mission to Yugoslavia, which has been funded by Norway, Germany, Denmark and Finland, is part of the second phase of UNEP's work in the region. As part of this phase, UNEP was present at the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe meeting on "Economic Reconstruction, Development and Cooperation," held from 10 to 11 February in Skopje. The meeting discussed how the BTF might contribute expertise for environmental assessments in other countries of the Balkans region including the impact of refugee flows into Albania and Macedonia.

Note to Editors:
Under the chairmanship of Pekka Haavisto, former Finnish Environment and Development Cooperation Minister, the BTF was set-up by Klaus Toepfer, in May 1999, to assess the environmental and human settlement consequences of the Balkans conflict. The BTF report, "The Kosovo Conflict - Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements," is available on the Web at http://www.grid.unep.ch/btf

Since it was established, the BTF has worked as an integral part of the UN system and in Kosovo continues to work within the framework of UNMIK. Sixty experts, drawn from six UN agencies, 19 countries and 26 scientific institutions and NGOs, were involved in the various BTF assessment missions. Funding for the BTF work (in the form of voluntary contributions) has come from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Additional in-kind support was provided by Russia and Slovakia, and NGOs including Greenpeace, WWF, IUCN, Green Cross and the WCMC.

Note to journalists:
For more information contact:
Robert Bisset,
UNEP Office of the Spokesman and BTF Press Officer on
tel: +254-2- 623084, mobile +41-79-206-3726,
email: robert.bisset@unep.org.

In Nairobi, please contact
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information,
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel. (254-2) 623292; Fax 623692;
email cpiinfo@unep.org

UNEP News Release 00/18.

Monday 21 Feb 2000
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