Press releases

Tuesday 07 Mar 2000

United Nations experts end survey of cyanide spill Assessment report scheduled for end-March

Nairobi/Geneva, 7 March 2000 - A team of international experts is meeting in Geneva to start preparing a scientifically-based, independent report on the environmental impacts of the cyanide spill at the site of the gold and silver producing company, AURUL S.A., at Baia Mare, Romania on January 31st.

The Geneva meeting follows the mission by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in response to a request for an emergency evaluation by the governments of Romania, Hungary and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

"Cooperation with the three governments and with other stakeholders has been effective and fruitful with full sharing of information on findings and measurements provided to the international team throughout the assessment mission," said UNEP's European Director Frits Schlingemann, who coordinated the UN assessment mission.

The team, consisting of 16 experts from seven countries, finished its sampling on Saturday, 5 March, on the Danube in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The experts carried out a rapid two-week assessment from the spill site in Northwest Romania. Some 800 kilometers downstream through the Lapus, Somes and Tisza rivers, they collected water, sediment and soil samples in specific sites all the way to the Danube delta.

A special joint sampling exercise at the locality of Csenger (on the Hungarian/Romanian border) was organized by the UN mission together with Romanian, Hungarian and international experts. This enabled the experts to compare methodologies and data, which have differed since measurements started immediately following the pollution incident in the three countries.

The heads and members of the joint UNEP/OCHA mission had extensive talks with environment ministers in the three capitals and with local authorities, non-governmental organizations, the local population, and the press throughout the mission to discuss issues related to the spill, clarify the work of the expert team, and coordinate information delivery by the three countries to the team. Scientific information from national experts will help the international team to better understand the evolution of the spill through the river systems downstream through to the Danube delta.

The emergency assistance by the United Nations team was carried out with the support of a number of international organizations including the Vienna-based International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR). It followed the announcement earlier by the European Environment Commissoner Margot Wallstrom, that a Task Force was being set up to ascertain the extent of pollution caused by the cynanide spill into the Danube and other rivers. Experts from the World Health Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Europe participated in the mission. The European Commission was also represented in Romania and Hungary. Furthermore, NGOs, including the REC (Regional Environment Centre) and the WWF were consulted. "There is a need for a more comprehensive river basin approach to tackle the underlying causes of river pollution in this region in Europe" said Schlingemann, echoing concerns expressed by governments and NGOs over the need for closer cooperation of the riparian states in the Tisza-Danube catchment area in the overall economic, social and environmental fields.

The report of the UNEP/OCHA mission, which is expected to come out by end of March or early April, will be based on the findings of the mission carried out from 26 February to 6 March 2000.

The Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit was set up in 1994 to improve international response to environmental emergencies. The OCHA/UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team provided essential coordination support for the field mission and was headed by Mr. Sergio Piazzi, Head of the European /NIS Desk of OCHA's Disaster Relief Branch.

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For more information please contact:
Anders Renlund, UNEP-ROE, mission press officer,
on +41-22-917-8272,
email: renlunda@unep.ch,
or
Donato Kiniger-Passigli,
OCHA, press officer
on +41-22-917-2653,
email: kiniger-passigli@un.org

In Nairobi, contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman, on
tel: +254- 2-623292
or
Robert Bisset,
Office of the Spokesman, on
tel: 623084, fax: 623692,
email: robert.bisset@unep.org

UNEP News Release 00/25

Tuesday 07 Mar 2000
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