UNEP-led Balkans Task Force scientists begin sampling of Danube river in wake of Romania cyanide spill

NAIROBI, 15 February, 1999 - As an emergency response to the cyanide spill at the Baia-Mare gold mine in northwestern Romania, the UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer, has instructed some of the Balkans Task Force (BTF) scientists who are currently working in Yugoslavia to take water quality samples from the river Danube. Mr. Toepfer has also directed Pekka Haavisto, his special representative and Chairman of the BTF, to continue consultations with Hungarian and Romanian authorities and to keep him informed about the situation.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Executive Director's initiative was also requested, and has been welcomed, by the Vienna-based International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR).

In response to requests from various governments in the region, Mr. Toepfer decided to re-direct one of the BTF scientists' two mobile laboratories, which were being used for other work in Serbia, for the emergency sampling. Mr. Toepfer, who last Friday met with the Hungarian Ambassador in Nairobi, is in contact with concerned environment ministers and the European Commission. If requested, he said, the laboratories could be available for use in other affected countries of the region.

UNEP is working closely with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and is also in contact with the Chemical Accidents Group of OECD regarding the next stage of the response to the cyanide spill emergency. "We are also ready to assist the European Commission in its response to this emergency," said Toepfer. "The first response, however, must be a reliable initial assessment of the immediate risks to the environment and human health of the people affected and this, I believe is how our experts in the field can be of immediate assistance," he said.

The scientists from the joint UNEP/UNCHS (Habitat) Balkans Task Force (BTF), are part of a group which started work last weekend on detailed environmental clean-up feasibility studies at four sites in Serbia. Up to now, the team have been conducting an analysis of the specific activities and technical requirements at the four "hot spots" identified by the BTF in its report, "The Kosovo Conflict - Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements." In its report released last October, the BTF concluded that pollution detected at the four environmental "hot spots" (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor), is serious and poses a threat to human health.

Note to journalists.

For more information contact Robert Bisset, BTF Press Officer, in Belgrade (from 16 February) c/o the Hyatt Regency Hotel on tel: (+381-11) 311 1234, fax: 311-2234, email: On mobile: 41-79-2063726. In Nairobi, contact: Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman on tel: (254-2) 623292, fax: 623692, email:

UNEP News Release 2000/14