Big Romanian Toxic Spills

Display 1.  Some of the prominent pollution-accident sites, and the major Romanian rivers that their contamination first enters on its way to the Danube Delta.

Although the spectacular fish kill resulting from the 30-Jan-2000 Baia Mare cyanide spill captured world attention, other toxic spills in Romania are readily discovered, as for example those in the list of fourteen below, whose waters all ultimately dump into the Danube.  These 14 happen to start by contaminating one of six Romanian rivers labelled in Display 1.  Viseu waters start off contaminating Ukraine and after that Hungary in a manner explained by the Tisza mosaic.  The Somes, Crisul Negra, Crisul Alb, and Mures flow directly into Hungary, there to join the Tisza, which in turn joins the Danube in Yugoslavia, and by means of a counterclockwise trip through central Europe, their Romanian toxins finding opportunity to spread themselves over a large area before arriving at the Danube Delta diluted.  Only the Siret is able to keep Romanian contamination within Romanian borders prior to reaching the Danube at a point not far above its delta, such that Siret toxins have less opportunity to become diluted before impacting the Danube Delta.

Below is a listing of the fourteen instances spoken of, with usually only a brief outline of each, except for the already-discussed 30-Jan-2000 Baia Mare spill, which is given more attention, and except for the addition of a few photographs that both clarify and assist in fixing in memory.

  1. 08-Feb-1998  Zlatna  "All fish and micro-organisms died"


    On 8 February, 1998, sulphur oxides from the "Ampelum" precious metals processing works near Zlatna ("goldy") had polluted 43 ha of soils. In the district of Feher alone, rivers totalling a length of 193 kms were completely destroyed. In the river Ompoly flowing into the Mures near Gyulafehervar all fish and micro-organisms died.

    Andreas Bernstorff and Judit Kanthak, The Real Face of the Kangaroo, Greenpeace, March 2000  archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/aurul-romania.pdf

  2. May-1998  Brad  "Large quantities of water and sludge containing cyanide and heavy metals were released"


    In May 1998, large quantities of water and sludge containing cyanide and heavy metals were released from the gold mine near Brad into the Crisul Alb river.  "Old piping" was the explanation given.  Romanian authorities admitted that the effluent had contained heavy metals, but did not admit to cyanide.  The river flows under the name of Feher Körös into the Theiss near Csongrad in Hungary.

    Andreas Bernstorff and Judit Kanthak, The Real Face of the Kangaroo, Greenpeace, March 2000  archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/aurul-romania.pdf

  3. 28-Dec-1999  Baia de Aries  "All of the remaining, already sparse, fish population died"

    Baia de Aries

    On 28 December 1999, several thousand cubic metres of water and sludge containing cyanide and heavy metals were released from the Baia de Aries gold mine into the Aries river.  Cyanide concentrations in the river ranged from 0.55 to 0.72 mg/l (55 and, respectively, 70 times more than permitted).  All of the remaining, already sparse, fish population died.  The drinking water supply of the town of Turda was disrupted.  Initially, the authorities suppressed this information.

    Andreas Bernstorff and Judit Kanthak, The Real Face of the Kangaroo, Greenpeace, March 2000  archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/aurul-romania.pdf

  4. 30-Jan-2000  Baia Mare  "Elevated CN was still measurable in the Danube Delta on the edge of the Black Sea four weeks after the spill"

    Tailings Spill Accident in Baia Mare, Romania


    About 100,000 m3 of water and tailings containing an estimated 50-100 tonnes of cyanide, as well as heavy metals, particularly copper, escaped into the Somes, Tisza and, ultimately, Danube river systems.  Nearby tailings were used to fill the breach and reduce the discharge to 40-50 L/s, which was neutralized with sodium hypochloride until the breach was completely sealed two days later.  On the same day (2 February), decontamination began of the 14 ha land area flooded by the spill, and the first report of dead fish was recorded.

    The impact of the incident included:

    • extensive contamination of a major river system, from the Somes/Szamos streams and the Tisza River, to the Danube River--contamination was detected for 2000 km downstream of the spill;

    • contamination and interruption of the drinking water in 24 towns and of 2.5 million people; massive fish-kill and destruction of aquatic species in the river systems; [...]


    Fish kill along the Tisza river
    The spill initially entered the Sasar river near Baia Mare, then travelled at 2.1 - 2.4 km/h along the Lapus and then the Somes river into Hungary; then into the Tisza river reaching Yugoslavia (800 km in 14 days).  The Tisza is a tributary of the Danube, where the pollution continued for a further 1200 km at 2.4 - 2.9 km/h before entering the Black Sea.

    The maximum cyanide concentrations measured in the rivers within Romania and Hungary varied depending on the time, location, and sampling and analytical procedures, with values ranging from 7.8 - 32.6 mg/L.  By the time the plume had reached the Yugoslavian border 800 km from Baia Mare, the cyanide concentration had dropped to 1.5 mg/L.  Once in the Danube river, the cyanide plume followed the left bank of the river, and concentrations dropped to about 0.07 mg/L at the Iron Gates 160 km downstream of Belgrade.  Elevated CN was still measurable in the Danube Delta on the edge of the Black Sea four weeks after the spill (maximum concentration of 0.058 mg/L).

    The plume also carried elevated heavy metals including copper, lead, zinc, iron and magnesium; Cu and Fe concentrations still exceeded maximum permissible levels by between 13-20 times in Yugoslavia, over 800 km downstream of the spill.

    Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Heritage  www.deh.gov.au/industry/...

    The following report is of particular interest as it is written by someone able to speak the local language, and thus able to probe beneath the surface, with the discovery that the delinquent Aurul plant apparently won the contract through corrupt means, that the opposition of the local population was ignored, that ill health and shortened life are endemic to the region, that environmental contamination from several sources is profound and ubiquitous, that the dangerous liquids that occasionally spill into waterways are conducted under pressure through pipes across the landscape, and that locals report other spills that presumably have never been noticed by the press.

    HVG  17 February 2000

    Report from Baia Mare
    Approaching Baia Mare from West, from Szatmárnémeti, on the right there is a 2-3 storey high heap of tailings, with a size of a stadium.  On the top of the tailings trucks and excavators are working, in a hardly 100 m distance there is the Meda dwelling area.  On the other side one can find gold processing factories, among them that of Aurul PLC.

    In the area of Baia Mare gold and silver mining has a tradition of several hundred years and the pace of mining accelerates from the beginning of the 20. Century.  Besides the sale of state owned gold processing factories, after 1989 it came up that the by-product of mining, the tailings should be treated to extract its gold and silver content.  The idea was followed by a tender for a tailings processing factory, demanding a 28.5 million USD investment.  The Australian Emeralda (with a capital of 13.6 Million USD) won the tender, beating 6 other applicants.  Esmeralda joined with the state owned Remin and founded the Aurul PLC, in which the two companies have a 50% and a 44.8% share respectively, while the Geomin PLC, privately owned company has a share of 5.2%.  The investment was financed from the 11.2 Mio USD capital of the company and from the 8.5-8.5 Mio USD loans of the English Rothschild and the German Dresdner Kleinwort Benson banks.  Earlier Romanian press reports pointed out that Esmeralda won the tender with the help of Virgil Magureanu, former head of the Romanian intelligence service.  It may explain the later flexibility of the environmental authorities: in 1997, when the Aurul started the construction of the tailing pool, the Remin provided the needed 90 ha area, which was bought from the villagers of Sasar.  Although, as József Szaniszló, the major of Baia Mare claimed, the investment encountered a strong opposition of the local people and local officials, Aurul still succeeded in getting all the required permissions.  The apport of Remin consisted of the area which now serves as a tailing pool and the area on which the factory was built.  The tailing heap belongs to the Remin, out of which Aurul plans to process 2.5 Mio tons annually, extracting 1.5 tons of gold and 8 tons of silver with an expected profit of 7 Mio USD annually.  The company pays the 3% of its sales income for the Roman State.  Trifa Nicolae, the marketing director of Remin told HVG: Aurul buys the tailing form all the gold mining companies of the region, moreover it buys the 40-50 years old ashes from the English-Indian company, Phoenix.  The tailings can be transported only through the dwelling area and despite the opposition against noise and dust--local citizens protested even by creating a living chain--nothing happened.  The diluted material from the tailing heap gets to the 6 containers, 2 Mio litres each, of Aurul through high pressure pipes.  In the containers, the so called "carbon in pulp, carbon in alkali method" is employed.  It is considered a modern technology in Romania.

    The technology is modern in a sense, that it requires less energy, compared to earlier technologies, to extract gold-cyanide and then gold and silver with the use of electrolyses and hydrochloric acid.  The diluted tailings mixed with sodium-cyanide gets to the settling ponds.  Here, under the great sky of god, the water evaporates while the cyanide partly transforms into hydrogen-cyanide gas, damaging the health of local people, partly oxidises and decomposes.  The tailings settles and the sodium-cyanide gets recycled--this recycling gives reason for the Australian director of Aurul to call the technology closed/contained.

    This "closed/contained technology system" opened substantially on the 30th of January: the cyanide contaminated water broke out and rushed into the Sasar stream which runs near the embarkment (built of multiply processed tailings) of the settling pond.  According to the official explanation, the pond simply flooded because of the unusually great amount of precipitation.  The damaged embankment was still under reparation when we were there last week, trucks and heavy machines were in operation there.  The Western side of the settling pond can not be seen in the fog.  Later it turns out that the total area is 90 hectares.  Eight workers in rubber clothes are coming, the oldest may be 40.  The odour does not disturb them, they got used to it, as one of them, a 28 years old young man explains.  "We were not here when the embankment burst out, but 40 people repaired it for 4 days and 4 nights", said another worker, who seemingly has difficulties with speaking.  We turn back after a half an hour, our eyes, tongue, nose and throat are strongly irritated by the air that we breathe.  We learned at home that we probably breathed hydrogen-cyanide.  We also met an old man at the outskirts of Baia Mare.  "In last October and November cyanide contaminated water flooded the land two times from the pipes, the cows drunk from it and two of them died immediately", he said.  Our 59 years old informants thinks that contamination can not be more severe.  All the mines and processing factories release their waste substances into the Sasar stream, even the nearby slaughter house releases the blood into the stream.  On the other side of the bridge we met another man, who showed us three settling ponds; two in operation, one of them belongs to the Aurul, the other belongs to the Remin.  The third one is out of operation, dried and grass is growing in it now.  Marketing director Trifa confirms the above: on the 8th of February cyanide contaminated water got into the stream from the settling pound of Remin.  They also use cyanide, since the minerals mined by the company contain small amounts of gold and silver.  The contaminated water is treated by hypochlorite--they use 10-15 tons of chemical each day.  The accident on the 8th of February happened because of the melting of big amount of snow.  The cause of the accident at Remin was that they did not have sufficient amount of hypochlorite, while in case of Aurul, the cause of the contamination was that the embankment could not hold the increased amount of water.  Before the construction experts warned in a "catastrophe study", prepared for the city management, that such an accident may happen, and it did happen tragically soon--Said József Szaniszló. Nevertheless, the citizens of Baia Mare have other things to worry for: the soil of the city and its surrounding area is strongly contaminated in a depth of 30-60 cm.  They breathe the CO2, coming from the neighbouring chemical refinery, but there is worse in Nagybánya, the lead contamination.  For the above, as Szaniszló thinks, life expectany of the local people is 10-12 years less than the national average.

    Maybe the apathy explains the declaration of Ioan Gherghes, Head of the Environmental Office in Maramures County, in the local newspapers: It can not be claimed to be an environmental catastrophe at all, but a severe accident.  He added that the accident hardly affected the flora and fauna of the rivers Lápos and Szamos, and if there were fish kills, it does not exceed the usual winter mortality rate.  He acknowledged, nevertheless, that cyanide could contribute to fish kills.  Petre Birlea shares the above position.  The reason of low mortality in the above mentioned rivers, according to the local population, is simply that practically there is no life in these rivers.  Philip J. Evers, the Australian director of the Aurul said, that nobody contacted them with compensation demands, so the issue is not relevant for them at the moment.  He resigned for personal reasons and not because of the cyanide accident and it happened two days before the spill.  The company was fined for 3 Mio Lej, - that makes approx. 150 USD for it notified the authority with a delay.

    János S. Ráduly


  5. 06-Feb-2000  Bozinte Mare  "1500 m3 of waste water with a cyanide concentration of 7mg/l reached the Lapus river"

    Bozinte Mare is a Romanian village just downstream of Baia Mare, a village so small that anything that happens there might normally be said to have happened in Baia Mare.


    On February 6, 2000, 1500 m3 of waste water with a cyanide concentration of 7mg/l (i.e. 10.5 litres) from a basin belonging to the REMIN company next to Bozinta Mare (Hungarian: Nagybozinta) reached the Lapus river.  The reason was a malfunction of a neutralisation device and careless handling.  The Romanian authority evaluated this as a "minor incident" and the company was fined Lei 16 million (US$ 900).

    Andreas Bernstorff and Judit Kanthak, The Real Face of the Kangaroo, Greenpeace, March 2000  archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/reports/aurul-romania.pdf

  6. 10-Mar-2000  Baia Borsa  "More than 18,000 tonnes of sediment laden with lead, zinc, copper and a small amount of cyanide"

    The Baia Borsa-Novat tailing pond is located in a remote mountain valley in Northern Romania.  Photograph and caption from International Commission for the Protection of the Danube (ICPDR), Danube Watch at  www.icpdr.org/pls/danubis/docs/...

    Melting snow and torrential rains broke a dam at the Baia Borsa lead and zinc mine in Romania, 375 kilometres north-west of Bucharest, on March 10.  More than 18,000 tonnes of sediment laden with lead, zinc, copper and a small amount of cyanide entered the Vaser spring and from there flowed into the river Viso, a tributary of the river Tisza.  [...]

    According to the Hungarian branches of Friends of the Earth and the World Wide Fund for Nature, the dissolved zinc and lead concentrations still exceeded the relevant thresholds by the time the contaminants reached Hungary on March 12, 185 kilometres from the Baia Borsa mine.

    "These mines and their waste-disposal reservoirs are ticking time bombs", said Zoltan Illes, chairperson of the environment protection committee of the Hungarian parliament.

    Jim Green, Second Romanian mine disaster adds to river pollution, Green Left Weekly  www.greenleft.org.au/back/2000/398/398p23.htm

    Looking toward the north-east from the 2303 m peak of Pietrosul Rodnei shows Baia Borsa in the valley below, and with Ukraine in the distance, beyond the hills which look down on the valley from the far side.  The Tisza River mosaic clarifies Baia Borsa's proximity to the Ukrainian border, and clicking to enlarge the Baia Borsa thumbnail in the mosaic shows Baia Borsa located at X=30 and Y=87, and on the river Tsysla (to use Ukrainian transliteration) or Cisla (to use a spelling that is quoted on the instant page).  It is the Cisla which conveys Baia Borsa pollutants to the Viseu, and it is the Viseu which carries them north-west to the Ukrainian border where the Viseu joins the Ukrainian-sourced Tisza, and so on as can be followed in the above-cited Tisza River mosaic.  A spill into the Vaser would be even earlier in the chain, the Vaser flowing into the Cisla.  The above photograph came from  www.suchy.wz.cz/photos/bucovina.htm

  7. 14-Mar-2000  Baia Borsa  "Hungarian authorities ordered disaster defence alert along the upper part of river Tisza."

    The Third Spill: Baia Borsa Again

    15 March, 16:15 CET

    Last night a third wave of pollution reached the Hungarian section of river Tisza.  Ukrainian authorities notified Hungary in advance and according to their information the source of third pollution is the same Romanian mine, the Novat settling pond of the Baia Borsa heavy metal mine.  The dam failure happed on 14 March around 15:00 p.m. and lasted for 2-3 hours.  Hungary did not receive any advance notification from Romania.

    According to visual observation the pollution seems smaller than the previous one as it does not cover the whole surface of river Tisza.  However, it length is reported as 30 kms.  As the source of pollution is the same as before, it is anticipated that the main pollutants are the same: lead, zinc, copper, aluminium.

    The lower water level in the water system indicates that the weater conditions and melting does not cause as severe circumstances in Romania as it was in the case of previous incident.  However, the spill happened.

    Hungarian authorities ordered disaster defence alert along the upper part of river Tisza.  All water usage of the river is forbidden.  It impacts the population around 25 thousand at the moment.

    The UNEP experts taking samples in order to document the previous spill downstream will move up to document this spill on site.

    At 10 am the pollution was in the segment of the river Tisza between Tiszabesz and Vasarosnameny.


  8. 27-Mar-2000  Baia Borsa  "Authorities in Ukraine have expressed concern about another spillage"


    Some 10,000 tons of lead residue has spilled into the Rivers Vaser and Viseu, tributaries of the Tisa (Tisza) River.  The incident was caused by the Aurul company in Baia Borsa (Borsa Banya) that was responsible for the cyanide spill in early February.  The company failed to notify the authorities of the spill, which occurred on 27 March during heavy rainfalls that resulted in the breaking of a five-meter stretch of the wall of a dam, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and Reuters reported.  Samples of water from the Tisa show lead is 2.7 times over permitted levels.  [...]

    The authorities in Ukraine have expressed concern about another spillage of contaminated sludge into the River Tisza, which they say has turned the water black


  9. 25-Jul-2000  Baia Mare  "Released a large amount of polluted water"

    Effluents from Mine Expected to Contaminate Szamos River

    hd: Budapest, 25 July (MTI) - A broken pipeline handling effluent water at a mine in Baia Mare, Romania, released a large amount of polluted water into tributaries of several Hungarian waterways on Monday morning. The Water Management of the Upper Tisza River Region of Hungary has asked for details on the expected pollution from the Water Management Office of Cluj (Kolozsvár), deputy manager of the Hungarian Region Gaspar Bodnar told MTI.

    According to information currently available, the pipe has since been repaired.  The pollutants were diluted in Romanian waterways and are now below the level qualified as hazardous.

    The contaminated water is likely to enter Hungary on Wednesday morning, Bodnar reported.  A water monitoring service is in effect along the Szamos and Tisza Rivers of Hungary, and regular measurements are being taken.

    Hungarian Online Resources  duna.org/cyanidespill/other-envtrouble.shtml

  10. 02-Nov-2000  Beius (sometimes "Beiu")  "Completely killed off the fish stock of the Nyimest"

    River Pollution Kills Fish In Bihor County In Romania

    BUDAPEST, Nov 3, 2000--(BBC Monitoring) Another ecological disaster happened in Romania. In the town of Beiu of Bihor County, an unknown chemical substance completely killed off the fish stock of the Nyimest [phonetic] stream.

    The stream, through the Koeroes, runs into the Hungarian section of the River Tisza.

    [Reporter] Although the catastrophe took place yesterday, the bank of the Nyimest stream is still full of dead fish.  The bluish-green non-organic material got into the water from a drainage system at the upper section of the stream.  The poison probably comes from a shoe factory which is in Italian ownership.

    [Local resident] We are very shocked by seeing the dead fish everywhere.  Since the pollution of Baia Mare [cyanide poisoning from the local gold mine] we are very weary of these events and we are cross with these companies.

    Hungarian Online Resources  duna.org/cyanidespill/other-envtrouble.shtml

  11. 17-Jan-2001  Falticeni  "Some went blue in the face, as is common in cyanide poisoning"


    Twenty-one adults and 79 children have been hospitalised after eating fish from the Siret River, which was tainted by cyanide when workers emptied a vat of poison into a tributary of the river because they wanted the vat for scrap metal, according to a Jan. 24 report from Agence France Presse (AFP).  Although the patients were suffering from nausea and vomiting--and some went blue in the face, as is common in cyanide poisoning cases--officials said their conditions were not considered dangerous, according to AFP.

    The Jan. 17 incident was caused by salvage workers at the Falticeni-based Metadet company, a bankrupt detergent firm in northeast Romania whose industrial wastes have fouled the Siret tributary Somuzul-Mare, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE).  Cyanide concentrations of as much as 130 times the normal level killed thousands of fish, some of which were apparently sold in nearby markets, according to reports.  Police have seized some 200 kilograms of dead fish, and hospital officials in the northeastern city of Iasi said the children's ward is "overwhelmed," with patients, according to AFP.

    Green Horizon  www.rec.org/REC/Programs/MIS/GreenHorizon/GH308.html

  12. 18-Mar-2004  Falticeni  "Ten tonnes of cyanhydric acetone leaked from a disused chemical plant into Somuzul Mare"

    Romania: cyanide spill pollutes river

    On 18 Mar 2004 an estimated ten tonnes of cyanhydric acetone [properly, acetone cyanohydrin (CH3)2C(OH)CN] leaked from a disused chemical plant into Somuzul Mare, a tributary of the Siret river which flows into the Danube.  The toxic chemical, used for the production of detergents, came from the the Metadet chemical plant in Falticeni, 500 km north of Bucharest.  Romania's Environment Ministry said that several tonnes had already been drained out of the river.  Preliminary data show a concentration of about 3.0 milligrammes per litre (mg/l), this compared with the European Union's admitted levels of 0.005 mg/l.  A similar incident which occurred in 2001 in the same place, resulted in 100 people being hospitalised after eating fish that was tainted by cyanide.

    International Water and Sanitation Centre  www.irc.nl/page/9002.  Oringinal source, Reuters 18 Mar 2004.  Footnotes removed.

  13. 05-Sep-2004  Baia Borsa  "Water supplies have been cut off in five towns and villages in the Ukrainian Transcarpathian Region"

    Romania Says Heavy Metal Spilled Into North River

    Planet Ark (Reuters)

    September 7, 2004

    BUCHAREST--Romanian environmental officials on Sunday investigated a spill of toxic heavy metals into a river in the north of the country that has reportedly caused neighboring Ukraine to cut water supplies to five towns.

    "A faulty hydro-transport pipeline at the Baia Borsa gold mine in Romania had broken and started to spread sludge containing zinc, lead and copper into the Cisla river," an official from the regional environment authority told Reuters.  The spill occurred in northern Romania, some 60 miles from the border with Ukraine, Romania's Environment Ministry said.  Cisla is a tributary of the Viseu river, which flows into the Tisa river which flows into Ukraine and then into Hungary  [...]

    BBC quoted a report by Ukrainian television TV 5 Kanal as saying water supplies have been cut off in five towns and villages in the Ukrainian Transcarpathian Region.

    It said hospitals were advised to store drinking water to last for three days and residents were asked not to fish for the time being.

    Mines & Communities Website  www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press429.htm.  The geography of the Tisza ("Tisa" in this passage) is incorrect.  In fact, the Tisza flows from Ukraine to Join the Viseu at the Ukrainian-Romanian border, and later leaves the border to flow within Ukrainian territory, and so on, as can be seen on the Tisza River mosaic.

  14. 14-Sep-2004  Rosia Poieni  "The copper level is 80 times and iron is 28 times the allowed concentration"

    Rosia Poieni is 4 km from Rosia Montana, and is noted for its copper mine.

    La mine de cuivre de Rosia Poieni à 4km de Rosia Montana (3km de diamètre,300m de profondeur).  Photograph and caption are from  mchanut.club.fr/rosia.htm.  The caption in English might read "Four km from Rosia Montana is the copper mine of Rosia Poieni which is 3 km in diameter and 300 m deep."

    Uncaptioned, from www.jurnalul.ro/modules/pnCPG/coppermine/displayimage.php?album=50&pos=6

    Stephanie Roth of the Romanian action group, Alburnus Major, comments (on 16th September):

    "Regarding the tailing pond accident in the catchment area of the Aries river that occurrd on 14th September 2004.  Cuprumin Abrud Ltd's Rosia Poieni facility released tailing and the copper level is 80 times and iron is 28 times the allowed concentration.

    Mines & Communities Website  www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press429.htm

    Rosia Poieni also appears to have at least one tailings lagoon, as evidenced by the following two photographs at two different spots of the dried edge of one such lagoon.  It is the collapse of the tailings dams that hold back the contents of such lagoons that is a common cause of massive pollution spills.

    Uncaptioned from  www.jurnalul.ro/modules/... EXTRATERESTRU.  Lacul de decantare de la Valea Sesii inseamna de fapt 220 de hectare transformate pe alocuri in peisaj selenar.  Photograph and Romanian caption are from  www.jurnalul.ro/modules/....  The caption appears to identify the scene as the dried edge of a decantation lake covering 220 hectares (544 acres) and which gives the appearance of a lunar landscape.  By way of comparison, the Rosia Montana cyanide lake is 600 hectares (1,482 acres).  By way of further comparison, New York City's Central Park is 341 hectares (843 acres).