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Huge Zinc, Lead Spill in Romania

March 11, 2000

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ The accidental dumping of 20,000 tons of lead and other metals from a mine in northwestern Romania has caused levels of the pollutants in the nation’s rivers to skyrocket, the government said today.

The new pollution, which came six weeks after a deadly cyanide spill, occurred Friday when melting snow and torrential rains broke a dam at the state-owned Baia Borsa mine, sending a wave of zinc and lead contaminated waters into the Vaser River.

The Romanian government reported that water from the Vaser, the Viseu River and the Romanian section of the Tisza River had higher than admissible levels of zinc and lead.

Lead was up to four times the acceptable level of 0.05 milligrams per liter early today, while zinc was at least 16 times the acceptable level, said Carla Chivu, spokeswoman for the Environment Ministry.

National radio quoted Environment Minister Romica Tomescu as saying zinc levels were 50 times higher earlier in the day. He added that zinc was not particularly dangerous to wildlife in the river.

The pollution was expected to reach neighboring Hungary sometime today, officials there said.

There were no immediate reports of dead fish in Romania, and water samples were being measured every two hours, Romanian state radio reported. Meanwhile, the worst floods in 30 years inundated the northwest region, making it difficult for authorities to inspect some of the sites.

In a statement issued Friday, the Romanian Environment Ministry said the polluted waters were heading toward the Tisza and Danube rivers _ already badly polluted by the previous escape of cyanide.

Tons of cyanide-laden waters spilled six weeks ago into a creek from the Aurul gold mine. The pollution flowed into three Balkan rivers and the Danube, killing wildlife and temporarily poisoning water supplies for river communities.

Hungary said it was testing the waters of the Tisza. The Vaser enters the Tisza near the Ukrainian-Romanian border.

``We still do not have precise information on the composition of the pollutants,″ said Hungarian Environment Minister Pal Pepo, who was interviewed by television stations on a bridge over the Tisza River at Tivadar near the Romanian border during the night.

``What is especially worrisome in this case is that the pollution entered the Tisza (on the Romanian-Ukrainian border) far upriver from where the cyanide poisoning occurred in January, now polluting a stretch where waterlife had remained untouched earlier,″ Janos Goenczy, a Hungarian government official, said Friday.

There was no immediate word of how much environmental damage has been done by the latest spill.

Andrei Svoronos, head of Romania’s Danube Delta natural reserve, said he believed that the ore would not flow as far as the cyanide did because it would settle into the riverbeds.