Cyanide Could Poison Food Chain

Dec. 28, 2000
A cyanide spill that polluted two European rivers will "poison the whole food chain'' for years to come, according to a Hungarian environmental official.

Zoltan Illes, the head of Hungary's environmental committee in parliament, repeated assertions that the spill that contaminated the Danube and Tisa rivers represents "the biggest environmental catastrophe since Chernobyl,'' the world's worst nuclear accident.

"The fact that heavy metals also got into the rivers means an even worse problem'' than the cyanide, he said in a television interview. "It will poison the whole food chain.''

Illes spoke a day after the cyanide spill reached Yugoslavia's stretch of the Danube, leaving dead fish in its wake. Even as the poison diminished to non-lethal levels, Serbian officials said they would sue those responsible in an international court.

The European Union Commission has said it was ready to help Hungary and Romania deal with the cyanide spill and will send its top environment official to assess the damage.

The spill originated in northwestern Romania, where a dam at the Baia Mare gold mine overflowed Jan. 30, causing cyanide to pour into streams. A cyanide solution is used to separate gold ore from surrounding rock. The polluted water flowed west into Hungary and then to Yugoslavia, a federation made up of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro.

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