MAC: Mines and Communities

Hungary claims $100 millon over cyanide river spill

Published by MAC on 2001-12-04
Source: Reuters

Hungary claims $100 millon over cyanide river spill

Hungary: December 4, 2001

A Budapest court will on Tuesday start hearing a $100 million damages claim by Hungary over an industrial cyanide spill that devastated rivers and fish stocks.

A government spokeswoman said Hungary was claiming 28.56 billion forints ($101.9 million) in damages against Aurul, a gold smelter half-owned by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd and in which the Romanian government has a 45 percent stake.

Early last year, about 100,000 cubic metres (3.5 million cubic feet) of cyanide-tainted water spilled from a dam at an Aurul gold smelting plant in Romania.

It wiped out millions of fish and prompted fears of long-term ecological damage to two of central Europe's biggest rivers, the Danube and the Tisza. Hungary says the Tisza has still not recovered.

Eva Montsko, spokeswoman for the Hungarian government commissioner for the Tisza, said there was no guarantee a similar disaster would not happen again.

"In addition to...damages, the state demands Aurul be banned from further activities that could harm the environment until it has the appropriate technology to prevent that," she told Reuters.

Montsko said Hungary had not been officially informed of what measures Aurul took as part of an "upgrading" before restarting its smelter in the summer of 2000.

The case will open at Budapest's Capital Court and could last several months, although an out-of-court settlement is possible.

Montsko said experts from countries affected by the spill, including Romania, will open talks later this month in Strasbourg, France, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, on a "Tisza agreement" to build a regional framework to prevent further environmental catastrophes.

Both Hungary and Romania are negotiating EU membership. Hungary has closed talks on the sensitive environmental policy "chapter". Romania has not.

Story by Krisztina Than

© 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

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