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Gold leaves toxic trail in Europe's rivers.

Several major rivers in Europe suffered the fallout of a gigantic mining accident in January 2000 that killed 650 tons of fish in a matter of weeks, deprived 2.5 million Hungarians of their water supplies, and left 15,000 fishermen jobless.

The disaster has been described as Europe's worst since the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986. Heavy rain and snow caused the wastes from the Baia Mare goldmine in northwestern Romania to overflow their containment pond, spilling 100 million liters of cyanide-contaminated waste-water into the Szamos River. The pollution flowed south to Hungary, killing a 400 kilometer stretch of the Tisza, the country's second-largest river, and entered the Danube in Yugoslavia. The spill has created what Hungarian environment minister Branislav Blazic describes as a "graveyard" at the bottom of the Tisza.

The Romanian accident is one of a series of similar gold mining disasters in recent years. In 1992, a wastewater spill at the Summitville mine in the U.S. state of Colorado destroyed aquatic life along 25 kilometers of the Alamosa River, In 1995, a tailings dam burst at a Canadian-owned mine in Guyana, spreading a toxic plume of waste down 70 kilometers of the Essequibo River.

In addition to water pollution, gold mining has other impacts on local landscapes and communities. Gold produced by cyanide heap-leaching, the dominant method in North American mines, generates 9 tons of contaminated waste per ounce of marketable metal. Gold mining remains one of the world's most hazardous professions: in South Africa, the world's leading gold producer, each ton of the metal mined caused 1 worker death and 11 serious injuries.

Gold mining companies have typically escaped liability for many of these accidents in Guyana, for instance, affected local communities were given meager compensation, leaving them with few resources to address the toxic fallout of the mine. Some companies have avoided responsibility for accidents by declaring bankruptcy, as in the case of the Summitville mine in Colorado, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates will cost taxpayers $170 million to clean up. Esmeralda Ltd., the Australian company which co-owns the Romanian mine, has denied responsibility for the disaster, in spite of demands for compensation from affected countries.
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Article Details
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Author:Sampat, Payal
Publication:World Watch
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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