The spill into the Siret River, a Danube tributary, of an undisclosed amount of cyanide, occurred on 19 January, when the contents of a storage tank at a shutdown chemical factory owned by Romanian company, Medatet, leaked, or were poured, through a rain gutter into a tributary of the river in the town of Falticeni, media reports said.

Reports have said that thousands of fish have died and that up to 100 people, most of them children, have reportedly been taken to hospital after consuming contaminated fish. Environmental experts are believed to be conducting a clear-up operation and local residents have been warned not to use water from the river or wells, where recorded levels have been as high as four milligrams a litre. The EU’s highest permitted level is 0.005 milligrams. The cyanide is reportedly making its way towards the Danube Delta and the Black Sea.

In the same week, Hungary and Romania announced that they are to seek $10 million in EU funds to chemical spills similar to this and last year’s cyanide spill from a gold mine in northwest Romania, which is considered to be one of Europe’s worst river pollution accidents (see related story).

Apart from these two facilities, a Hungarian government official reportedly said that there were seven other plants and mines in Romania which could pose serious hazards, and that EU funds would be sought to assist in a clear-up operation.

In November 2000, the European Commission adopted a Communication on the safe operation of mining activities (see related story).

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