Romania

Romania - Waste Spill OCHA Situation Report No. 1

Format
Situation Report
Source
Posted
Originally published
Ref: OCHA/GVA - 2000/0034
Liquid and suspended waste spill from the Baia Mare gold mine in Romania
OCHA Situation Report No. 1
29 February 2000

Situation

1. Due to heavy rainfall and snow combined with a rise in air temperature, the thawing snow caused a rise of the waters of the AUREL gold plant dam in northwestern Romania, used for decanting the industrial waters with high cyanide concentration. Reportedly, about 100,000 cubic metres of contaminated water poured into the Lapus river on 30-31 January 2000, and then into the Szamos river allowing the contamination to be released to the regional system resulting in fish-kills and rendering water supplies for many towns problematic.

2. No reports of human illness or deaths have been reported so far, but various references point to damages to flora and fauna in the affected areas. The Szamos river, one of the largest in Romania, is also an important tributary to the Tisza river flowing through Hungary. The spill that polluted the Lapus and Szamos rivers in Romania, apart from affecting Hungary's second largest river, Tisza, continued to the Danube in Yugoslavia. Fish-kill has been observed along all contaminated parts of these rivers, and fears are that benthic insects and micro-organisms have been affected as well.

UN Emergency Assessment Mission

Background

3. UNEP and OCHA upon formal requests by the Governments of Romania, Hungary and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, have set up an emergency assistance mission to provide an urgent, independent scientific assessment by an international group of scientists of the environmental impacts of the recent spill of liquid and suspended waste from a Romanian gold mine. The scientific group is composed of experts from Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Financial support to the mission is provided by Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In kind support (e.g. laboratory services) is provided by Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland.

4. The assessment is aimed at supporting the provision of advice on response activities and better accident prevention and preparedness, and at making recommendations to the international community on possible assistance. 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.

Coordination

5. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is in close contact with the UNDP office in Bucharest and the OCHA Office in Belgrade, which are closely monitoring the situation and providing important assistance to the mission.

6. In order to ensure the necessary overall coordination, as well as logistical support to this operation, OCHA's Disaster Response Branch (DRB) has mobilized the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team. The UNDAC Team is responsible for the smooth and coordinated activities of the mission, in close cooperation with the respective national authorities and other relevant partners.

7. The OCHA/UNEP response is also a contribution and input to the broader framework and approach of the European Commission with regard to a longer-term rehabilitation programme. The UN mission is carried out in cooperation with the European Commission, UN/ECE, WHO and other relevant UN agencies and international organizations, including the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Regional Environmental Centre (REC).

8. Meetings and contacts throughout are initiated and are maintained with national authorities, scientists, local communities and non-governmental organizations.

UN mission's tasks

9. The mission's task is to provide a rapid, independent, scientific and objective description of the spill, the situation and events causing it, from its source in Baia Mare to the Danube delta. Collection and review of relevant baseline data on the state of the environment and the water quality in affected areas, together with evaluation of available data on the effects of the spill on ecosystems and water quality, will be carried out from the period immediately after the incident up to the start of the UN assessment mission on Friday 25th February 2000.

10. Sampling at spots along the affected water courses will provide data to the UN experts and will help in assessing recovery processes, including planning of monitoring and means to facilitate the recovery, and limit long-term negative ecological, social and health-related effects.

11. The mission will also review the working of emergency warning systems, including dam safety issues, with a view to improving prevention of and preparedness to similar accidents, and also strengthen response mechanisms.

12. Finally, within the framework of the European Commission's established Task Force's work, and other cooperative efforts, recommendations will be made to the national authorities, including those on possible remedial actions and the necessary programmes for damage assessment, rehabilitation and prevention.

UN mission's work

13. The mission started in Bucharest on 25 February with meetings with government officials. Assessments, through the collection of samples of soil, tailings, water, groundwater, sediments and biota are being carried out between the 26th of February to the 5th of March. The international UN experts, divided into several teams, started their field assessment work on 26 February at the Baia Mare site in northwestern Romania, where the spill occurred. At present, the mission is visiting selected locations in Hungary, and will proceed to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 2 March.

14. It is planned that the team would have its wrap-up meeting in Geneva on 6 March.

15. Analyses of samples will be performed on site by portable and mobile laboratories, which have been provided by the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany, and in other reliable laboratories in selected countries. Parallel work will include the collection and evaluation of available information related to the spill and the situation before the spill and consideration of data and analyses performed by respective national authorities.

16. DRB's Military and Civil Defence Unit (MCDU) has mobilized military and civil defence assets in Romania and Hungary for the provision of transportation for the mission and other related purposes. MCDU has also arranged a rapid chemical analysis of samples, collected by the mission in the Danube delta.

Reporting

17. 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.

18. This situation report, together with further information on ongoing emergencies, is also available on the OCHA Internet Website at http://www.reliefweb.int

In case of emergency only: Tel. +41-22-917 20 10

Desk Officer (OCHA Disaster Response Branch): Mr. Sergio Piazzi, direct Tel. +41-22-917 3518
Mr. Dusan Zupka, Direct Tel. +41-22-917-1645
Mr. Vladimir Sakharov, Direct Tel. +41-22-917-1142

Press contact: Mr. Donato Kiniger-Passigli, direct Tel. +41-22-917 26 53

Telephone: +41-22-917 12 34
Fax: +41-22-917 00 23
E-mail: ochagva@un.org

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.