Press releases

Friday 25 Feb 2000

United Nations experts begin scientific assessment of cyanide spill damage

Bucharest/Nairobi, 25 February 2000 - A team of international experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is starting work today on a scientific assessment of the environmental damage caused by the recent cyanide spill and other waste products from the Baia Mare gold mine in northwestern Romania.

In response to a request for emergency assistance from Romania, Hungary and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the team - 13 scientists from Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom - will carry out a rapid two-week assessment of the environmental impact of the spill in the countries affected. Experts from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe are also working with the team. The European Commission will also be represented in Romania and Hungary.

The emergency assistance by the United Nations team is being carried out with the support of a number of international organizations including the Vienna-based International Convention on the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), and follows last week's announcement by European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstroem that a task force would be set- up to ascertain the extent of the pollution caused by the cyanide spill into the Danube and other rivers.

After meetings with authorities in Bucharest today (including Romanian scientists from relevant ministries and institutes), the team will travel to the Baia Mare dam site on Saturday and work in the region until Monday. In Baia Mare, the experts will also meet with representatives from the Esmeralda Mining Company. Also, today, part of the UN team will travel to the Danube delta (where it is estimated that the cyanide plume is at present) and take water samples over the weekend.

In Hungary, next week, the scientists will divide into two sampling teams working at different locations on the Tisza and Samos rivers. From 2 to 4 March, the scientists plan to take samples from the Tisza and Danube rivers in Yugoslavia. The scientists will have at their disposal three mobile laboratories from the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland.

During the rapid assessment and fact-finding mission, the UNEP/OCHA team will also meet with relevant national authorities, experts and other representatives (from non-governmental organizations and affected local communities) in each of the three countries. A report, outlining the conclusions and recommendations of the mission, will be made available to the national authorities of the affected countries, and as a contribution to the coordinated international response to the spill advocated by the European Commission to all relevant parties.

Note to journalists. For more information contact:
Anders Renlund,
mission press officer on
mobile: +41-79-629-0236,
email: anders.renlund@unep.ch
or
Robert Bisset,
UNEP Office of the Spokesman on
tel: +254-2-623084, mobile +41-79-20603726 (until 27 February),
email: robert.bisset@unep.org

In OCHA, contact
Donato Kiniger-Passigli on
+41-22-917-2653,
email: kiniger- passigli@un.org.

In Nairobi, please contact,
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman/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 00/20

Friday 25 Feb 2000
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