Mining waste spill from the Baia Borsa processing complex in Romania
OCHA Situation Report No. 1
15 March 2000
Due to torrential rains (37 l/sq.m reported by a local weather station) and snow melting on slopes surrounding the NOVAT artificial reservoir in BAIA BORSA (Romania - Maramures county), water level had raised rapidly and a dam ruptured on 10 March 2000, at about 11 a.m. (local time).
The breech in the dam was reported to be 25 m long and 10 m high, allowing a spill of around 20,000 tons of mineral waste stored in the decantation reservoir by the BAIA BORSA Preparation Enterprise for processing complex ores of lead and zinc (local branch of the state coordinated company REMIN S.A. - BAIA MARE).
The accident led to pollution of the Vaser river with mineral materials, and possibly with heavy metals elements. The Vaser river is a tributary to the Tisza river, flowing in Ukraine and through Hungary.
No reports of human illness or deaths, or fish mortality have been reported so far.
Polluted waters reached the territory of Ukraine (village Dilove, Rachivskyi district) in the night of 10 March 2000. Competent bodies of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine warned relevant monitoring institutions and local authorities about the accident, and in cooperation with the Zakarpatsk Region Epidemiological Service started monitoring the quality of surface waters. According to Ukrainian forecasts, polluted waters would continue passing the territory of Ukraine during 3-5 days.
Governmental Hungarian bodies were notified by the Upper Tisza Regional Water Authority around 4 p.m. on 10 March 2000 that according to their information approximately 20,000 tonnes of sludge containing heavy metals (including Zn, Cu, Pb and possibly a certain amount of cyanide) were discharged from a reservoir in Baia Borsa in Romania. From the Vaser river contaminated waters moved to the Tisza river.
It has been noted that the water level is very high (there is a danger of floods) and that therefore the water moves rapidly. The Hungarian regional water authorities declared a water quality emergency, and started taking samples immediately.
National Response in Romania
Competent Romanian authorities, together with an international alarm and warning centre for situations of accidental pollution in the hydrographic basin of the Danube River (PIAC-08), have issued notifications to competent authorities in Hungary and Ukraine, as well as to the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) based in Vienna.
A national team led by Mr. Romica Tomescu, the Romanian Minister for Environment Protection, arrived on the same day on the site of the accident for assessment and coordination of efforts for reducing and eliminating the effects of the accident.
Significant intervention resources have been mobilized at the accident site, in order to repair the breech, monitor the volume of water in the NOVAT lake, and take other response and prevention measures.
UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Mission
On 11 March 2000, the Hungarian authorities requested the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, integrated in OCHA's Disaster Response Branch (DRB), to provide urgent assistance, in terms of an independent sampling and analysis, following a new spill of pollutants from the vicinity of Baia Borsa in Romania. The spill, which reportedly contained high levels of zinc and lead, occurred in the same region as a previous spill from the Baia Mare gold mine some six weeks ago in northwestern Romania.
Immediate action has been taken by the Joint Environment Unit, DRB, which has contacted the Swiss Disaster Relief (SDR) agency for assistance. On 13 March 2000, OCHA in close cooperation and coordination with UNEP dispatched a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team. The Team is led by a senior staff member of DRB, and includes three highly qualified experts from Switzerland, nominated and financed by the Swiss authorities.
The mission is fully coordinating its work with the Hungarian authorities and other partners, including the European Commission. Meetings and contacts throughout are initiated and maintained with national authorities, scientists, local communities and non-governmental organizations.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is in close contact with the Hungarian, Romanian and Ukrainian authorities, their respective Permanent Missions in Geneva, with the European Commission, UNEP, UN/ECE, ICPDR, as well as the UNDP office in Bucharest.
UNDAC mission's tasks
The mission is a rapid fact-finding and assessment mission comprising field visits to selected locations, supplemented by meetings with relevant national authorities, experts, non-governmental groups and other representatives concerned.
The Team will undertake sampling at selected spots along the affected watercourses. Samples (including water and sediments) will be analyzed in the field, as well as in an independent laboratory.
UNDAC mission's work
The UNDAC mission will spend several days in Hungary taking samples in the field, and will meet officials as required.
The UNDAC Team, together with an expert team from the European Commission, has also been invited by the Romanian authorities to visit the accident site.
The mission started in Budapest on 13 March 2000 with meetings with government officials. Assessments, through the collection of samples of soil, water, and sediments are being carried out on 14-15 March in Hungary, and on 16 March in Romania.
A report outlining conclusions and recommendations of the mission, will be made available to the national authorities of the affected countries, the European Commission, UNEP, OCHA, UNDP, UN/ECE, WHO and other relevant UN agencies, ICPDR, WWF, IUCN and other relevant non-governmental organizations, and to potential donors as appropriate. The report will become a public document.
This situation report, together with further information on ongoing emergencies, is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at http://www.reliefweb.int
Telephone: +41-22-917 12 34
Fax: +41-22-917 00 23
In case of emergency only: Tel. +41-22-917 20 10
Desk Officer (OCHA Disaster Response
Branch): Mr. Vladimir Sakharov, Direct Tel. +41-22-917-1142
Mr. Dusan Zupka, Direct Tel. +41-22-917-1645
Press contact: Mr. Donato Kiniger-Passigli, direct Tel. +41-22-917 26 53
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