The Baia Mare Gold Mine Cyanide Spill: Causes, Impacts and Liability - Hungary (2023)

On January 30, 2000, the dam containing toxic waste from the Baia Mare Aurul gold mine in northwest Romania burst, releasing 100,000 cubic meters of sewage, heavily contaminated with cyanide, into the Lapus and Somes tributaries of the Tisza River. largest in Hungary. 🇧🇷

Cyanide is highly toxic and lethal to humans and other species, even in very small doses. Cyanide-contaminated water has already been transported to the Danube River, which flows through Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

The Hungarian Environment Ministry stated on 14 February that: "In addition to ecological damage, cyanide pollution in the Tisza River also posed a significant threat to human health, because in the upper reaches of the Tisza the cyanide concentration was 100 times higher than than the limit value for drinking water".

Reports from the area indicate that there was extensive damage to the river's ecosystem and its fauna. The Hungarian Environment Ministry has stated that between Tiszafured and Szolnok, between 80 and 100 percent of fish stocks will be killed. Other wildlife was also affected, including mute swans, black cormorants, foxes and other carnivores. (Sources: MIT, Nepszabadsag, Magyar Hirlap, Vilaggazdasag)

The dam was built in 1998. The gold mine itself is jointly owned by Romanian interests and Esmeralda, an Australian company based in Perth.

What caused the incident?

The reasons for the incident are still under investigation. Of course, doubts have been raised about the dam's safety in the recent past, despite the Romanian government's claims that: "unusual weather conditions caused the dam to fail. The high temperatures, never before recorded during the last century, caused a rapid thaw which caused a large spill of water in the dam.” (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Environment, El País, 2/10/00)

(Video) A Brief History of: The Baia Mare Dam Disaster (Short Documentary)

1999: Romanian environmental authorities alerted Baia Mare mine management to potential risks associated with the dam after former company employees revealed that serious mistakes were made during construction of the tailings dam. The basin was lined with a film, but the walls were made of earth containing large amounts of sand rather than rocky materials that made it unstable.

Autumn 1999: Five cows in the nearby town of Zazar died after cyanide-contaminated water was released from the Baia Mare mine piping system. Baia Mare claimed it was the result of "material errors" and paid for the cows.

Deputy Ilie Mihut, from nearby Nagybozinta, reported that the dam wall was leaking in December 1999. Baia Mare paid people to cover up the traces of the leak. (Sources: MagyarHirlap vom 10.02.00, Nepszabadsag, Tibori Szabo Zoltan, 09.02.00)

Damage range.

The European Environment Agency describes the accident as "the worst case scenario for rivers in the region". The Agency's own investigation found cyanide levels four times higher than the first suggested indications. (END, 02/15/00)

So far, little is known about the incident's long-term environmental impacts. However, toxic and bioaccumulative substances, such as heavy metals, are common in tailings from mining activities.

On 19 February, the Hungarian Ministry of Environment reported that Lake Tisza in Hortobágy National Park, which recently became a World Heritage Site, was affected, as well as areas protected by the Ramsar Convention and reserves that are part of UNESCO's MAB program. .

Who claims responsibility?

(Video) Europe's Worst Ecological Disaster Since Chernobyl (2000)

Historically, the mining industry has repeatedly tried to avoid liability for these types of incidents. Brett Montgomery, president of Esmeralda Exploration, which owns 50% of the mine, is trying to play down the incident by saying reports were "greatly exaggerated", that it is not an environmental catastrophe and that the environmental impacts are due to "a series of events not related". events." PERTH, Australia (AP) - 10/02

Cyanide in gold production

Since the 1960s, when 'cyanide leaching' was introduced into the extraction process, the toxic impact of gold mining has skyrocketed. The process consists of pouring a cyanide solution over the crushed ore. The cyanide solution is filtered, dissolving the gold and carrying it into the solution ponds. This technique requires the use of large amounts of highly toxic cyanide. The cyanide solution is reused, stored in dams or dumped directly into rivers or the sea. Toxic heavy metals and metalloids such as arsenic are often found in ores and can be released with crushing and leaching.

Previous mining spills

There are regular incidents related to cyanide in mining. 'Tails' dams, where contaminated wastewater from the mining process is stored, are a frequent cause of serious environmental disasters.


Mining companies violate even minimum environmental standards around the world and destroy large areas of nature. Habitats are destroyed and groundwater sources and river systems are contaminated, particularly in developing countries where mining companies often ignore environmental standards. Residents of local mines are also often affected by the industry and have been evicted from their land or affected by pollution resulting from the mining process.



Greenpeace believes that:

The Baia Mare Aurul gold mine in Romania is to be closed until there is no risk of further incidents.

The miners (in this case, Esmeralda and the State of Romania) must be held responsible for all damages and pay all costs related to the incident.

International rules for mining must be established, including:

i) full liability of mining companies for all potential harm to people and the environment.

ii) the prohibition of mining activities in areas of special environmental interest or close to populated areas.

iii) standards for mining operations that include transportation, storage and treatment of waste and products.

Due to the large-scale destruction of the environment as a result of mining, the need for mining must be reassessed and the aim must be to reduce the need for raw materials as much as possible. This can be done through better standards, including: more efficient use of raw materials (environmental design), changes in consumption patterns (knowledge-intensive products and services rather than material-intensive products) and by recycling metals. Gold, for example, is mainly used for jewelry and national banks already have large gold reserves and many are already planning to sell large quantities.


Localization map

Rio Tisza em risco

Water is the source of life. Despite this, rivers are being misused; as sewage pipes by industries and municipalities around the world. Microorganisms are able to cope with low levels of contamination in intact waterways. However, if tons of toxic industrial chemicals are dumped into a river at the same time, the results will be disastrous. Regeneration can take many years. Many river systems around the world have failed to fully recover after recurring disasters and continual contamination with highly concentrated toxic substances. In Romania, 3,900 kilometers of rivers have been declared dead. The same fate now threatens Hungary's second longest river, the 700 km long Tisza.

After the cyanide disaster in late January 2000, a regeneration program for the Tisza and its ecosystems is underway. The Hungarian government, together with EU and UNEP working groups, are investigating and several offers of assistance have been made. However, all efforts will be in vain if the governments, authorities, industries and municipalities responsible for the Tisza basin do not ensure that further accidents are avoided and the continuous pollution of the river system is stopped. Before a regeneration program can be designed, hot spots need to be identified. Thereafter, a major pan-European cooperative effort would be needed to eliminate the risks. A steady stream of reports of river pollution accidents and incidents in recent years in the Tisza tributary basins underscores the seriousness of the situation.

The Aurul disaster in late January 2000 was by no means the only recent accident at a Romanian mine. Just a week later, the Remin SA company in Baia Mare dumped cyanide-contaminated water into the Lapus River, which flows into the Somes (Szamos), a tributary of the Tisza. Roplumb SA's metal processing plant in Baia Mare is also a frequent source of heavy metals and toxic emissions for Lapus. Six weeks after the cyanide catastrophe, a dam at the BaiaBorsa lead-zinc mine burst, spilling 20,000 tonnes of toxic sludge into another tributary of the Tisza, the Viseu (Visó). In one of the four Remin mines in Borsa, Adam had already exploded once with serious consequences in 1997.

In late December 1999, several thousand cubic meters of cyanide-contaminated effluent from the Baiade Aries mine was discharged into the Aries River, which subsequently emptied into the Mures (Maros) tributary of the Tisza. The Industria Sârmei metal processing plant in Câmpia Turzii discharges all of its effluents into the Aries. Gold mine tailings ponds in Brad, Abrud and Zlatna could cause another cyanide disaster. The last accident on Brad was in May 1998, when the Tisza tributary Crisul Alb (Fehér Körös) was severely contaminated with cyanide and heavy metals. The uranium mines near the Brad are another threat to this river. At Zlatna, the Ampelum noble metal processing compound emitted sulfur oxides in February 1998, devastating 47,000 hectares of agricultural land and 193 km of river landscape. Metal smelters around Hunedoara regularly contaminate Mures (Maros). In Tirnaveni, an accident on the Bicapa harvester in December 1999 caused chromium levels to rise 20 times the permitted values; the poison reached the Mures. Also in Slovakia, magnesite and other mineral mines operate on the tributary Tisza Hórnad (Hernád), near Kosice; here again there are reports of heavy metal levels exceeding permitted values ​​in river water. In February 2000, a cyanide contamination incident was reported in the Slovakian part of the Bodrog plain (Bodrog Köz). Little is currently known about the operations of the Ukrainian gold mine in Muzhievsk. If a disaster were to occur here, it would have a huge impact on the Tisza River.

At a symposium in Bucharest in June 1999, the Romanian Minister for the Environment announced that sections of rivers totaling 320 kilometers had been devastated in recent years by mineral oil contamination. Oil exploration near Suplacu de Barcau is the main source of contamination of the Barcau River (Berettyó). Oradea's oil refineries periodically dump part of their products into the Crisul Repede (Sebes-Körös).

In addition to mines and mineral processing operations, chemical industries and paper mills also extract large amounts of water from rivers and return it mixed with toxic substances. The biggest polluters of flowing water in the Tisza basin are the paper mill Somesul in Somesul (Szamos) in Dej, Chimica Turda in Turda in Aries, the pharmaceutical plants Terapia in Cluj-Napoca in Somesul Mic (Kis-Szamos), where a major accident occurred in January 2000, the Azomures chemical combination in Tirgu Mures in Mures, chemical plants with outdated technologies around Dr.Petru Groza and the Sinteza chemical combination in Oradea in Crisul Repede.


The combined processing of poultry Avicola Pui Carne SA, Avimar SA and Avistar SA near Baia Mare caused a large fish kill in Lapus in July 1999, as well as the abandonment of the Bontida pig farm in January 1999. 2000 in Cluj- Napoca in Crisul-Mic (Kis-Szamos). An outdated thermal and power plant near Velke Kapusany in Slovakia is another ecological time bomb. Municipal effluents, for example from the city of Szeged in southern Hungary, are a serious additional load on the affected river. Many other sources of danger have yet to be identified.

Judit Kanthak

Date: 3/2000, main sources: Tibori SzaboZoltán in Népszabadság (Budapest), Mediafax (Bucharest) and LeontinCupar in Curentul (Bucharest)


What river was poisoned with cyanide from a gold mine in Romania? ›

wastewater spilled from a Romanian gold-processing facility, killing much of the aquatic life in the Tisza River, a tributary of the Danube.

What is the effect of cyanide in gold mining? ›

Cyanide use in mining

Gold is one of the noble metals and as such it is not soluble in water. Cyanide, which stabilizes the gold species in solution, and an oxidant such as oxygen are required to dissolve gold. The first step in the process is to prepare the ore by crushing and grinding.

What caused the Tisza Danube cyanide spill? ›

The spill, which originated in northern Romania, where a dam at the Baia Mare gold mine overflowed last month and caused cyanide to flow into streams, has not been diluted to a safe level despite winter rains.

What was the impact of the Baia Mare cyanide spill? ›

Large numbers of fish died from the cyanide spill, affecting 62 species of fish, of which 20 were protected species. The Romanian government claimed that the fish had died of "cold", and that they were not at fault.

What was done to clean up the Baia Mare cyanide spill? ›

Aurul's process uses high concentrations of cyanide to remove the precious metals from the tailings. As part of the process, new waste tailings are transported 6.5 kilometres away from Baia Mare to a new dam near Bozanta Mare village. The process was designed to release no waste to the surrounding environment.

How do you clean up a cyanide spill? ›

Liquids: Wipe up spilled liquids with absorbent pads. Solids: Gently cover solid spills with paper towels or absorbent pads wetted with pH 10 buffer solution to avoid raising dust and then wipe up. Clean the spill area thoroughly with pH 10 buffer solution followed by dilute bleach solution.

What are three environmental effects caused by mining gold? ›

Gold mining is one of the most destructive industries in the world. It can displace communities, contaminate drinking water, hurt workers, and destroy pristine environments. It pollutes water and land with mercury and cyanide, endangering the health of people and ecosystems.

What was the effect of the cyanide? ›

Cyanide prevents the cells of the body from using oxygen. When this happens, the cells die. Cyanide is more harmful to the heart and brain than to other organs because the heart and brain use a lot of oxygen.

What environmental damage does gold mining cause? ›

Deforestation, erosion, overgrazing, over cultivation and incorrect agricultural practices and the degradation of natural buffers amplify the effects of natural hazards.

What caused the toxic spill in Hungary? ›

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated that the cause of the spill was presumably human error.
Ajka alumina plant accident
Date4 October 2010
Casualties10 deaths, 406 injured (120 seriously)
8 more rows

What are the causes of environmental disaster? ›

For instance, deforestation of slopes often leads to an increase in landslide hazard and removal of mangroves can increase the damage caused by storm surges.
PW Disaster risk
  • Climate change.
  • Enviromental degradation.
  • Globalized economic development.
  • Poverty and inequality.
  • Poorly planned urban development.
  • Weak governance.

How did the accidental spill of cyanide at a mine in Romania spread to neighboring countries? ›

Cyanide Flows into the Danube River System The cyanide spilled first into the Szamos River in Romania. The Szamos carried the toxic waste across Hungary, where it entered the Tisza River. The Tisza then emptied into the Danube River, which carried the toxic spill across Serbia and Montenegro and Bulgaria.

What countries were affected by the cyanide spill? ›

The spill, on 30 January, occurred in the Baia Mare region of northwest Romania and flowed into the shared river systems of Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia.

What is the toxic byproduct of gold production that was spilled in Peru and injured hundreds of villagers? ›

More than 150kg of mercury – a byproduct of gold extraction – dribbled along the dirt road that passes through Choropampa and two other villages. Residents, including pregnant women and children, scooped up the liquid and took it home.

Where did the Tisza Danube cyanide spill? ›

The spill occurred on 30 January at the Aurul precious metals recovery plant near Baia Mare, Romania, when 100000m3 of sludge contaminated with cyanide and heavy metals flowed over a 25m length of dam and down the Szamos and Lapos rivers to the Tisza.

How can we protect from cyanide? ›

What can you do if you think you may have been exposed to a release of cyanide?
  1. Quickly remove any clothing that may have cyanide on it. ...
  2. Quickly wash any cyanide from your skin with large amounts of soap and water, and flush your eyes with large amounts of water. ...
  3. If needed, seek medical attention right away.

What safety precautions should be taken for cyanide? ›

The following recommendations are only guidelines and may not apply to every situation. * Avoid skin contact with Sodium Cyanide. Wear protective gloves and clothing. Safety equipment suppliers/manufacturers can provide recommendations on the most protective glove/clothing material for your operation.

What are the major impacts of mining? ›

The extraction of minerals from nature often creates imbalances, which adversely affect the environment. The key environmental impacts of mining are on wildlife and fishery habitats, the water balance, local climates & the pattern of rainfall,sedimentation, the depletion of forests and the disruption of the ecology.

What are 3 negative impacts mining can have on the environment? ›

Mine exploration, construction, operation, and maintenance may result in land-use change, and may have associated negative impacts on environments, including deforestation, erosion, contamination and alteration of soil profiles, contamination of local streams and wetlands, and an increase in noise level, dust and ...

What are three problems caused by mining? ›

The environmental impacts include noise pollution caused by heavy trucks from mining centers, pollution of water bodies by chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and cadmium from refining of mined minerals, contamination of agricultural soils by heavy metals and other pollutants, resulting in the depletion of agriculture ...

How long does cyanide death take? ›

It is important to note that cyanide is rapidly acting poison and once signs and symptoms appear, death ensues within 30 min. However, we received the antidote kit after around 60 min.

Can people survive cyanide? ›

Individuals who survive cyanide poisoning are at risk for central nervous system dysfunction, such as anoxic encephalopathy. Acute and delayed neurologic manifestations (Parkinson-like syndrome, other movement disorders, neuropsychiatric sequelae) have been reported.

How long does cyanide poisoning take dogs? ›

Mucous membranes are bright red at first but then become a bluish color. Death usually occurs in 30 to 45 minutes during severe convulsions. Animals that live 2 hours or more after signs begin may recover, unless cyanide continues to be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.

What is the most common environmental impact from mining? ›

The major potential environmental impacts associated with mining and associated mineral processing operations are related to erosion-prone landscapes, soil and water quality, and air quality.

What are the social impacts of mining? ›

Economically, they contribute to government revenue and employ a significant number of people. There are however some social negative impacts associated with mining including violence, child labour, escalation of gender inequalities, health and environmental effects including deforestation and pollution.

What caused the red mud of Hungary? ›

Following the collapse of an alumina waste reservoir in Hungary in 2010, a toxic wave of 'red sludge' flooded the surrounding area, destroying villages and contaminating the land.

Where did the red mud in Hungary come from? ›

On October 4, 2010, the retaining wall of a caustic waste reservoir at the Ajka alumina plant near Kolontar, Hungary, collapsed, releasing more than one million cubic meters (38 million cubic feet) of highly alkaline red sludge.

What was the Doni disaster in Hungary? ›

In January 1943, the poorly equipped 2nd Hungarian army fought amid bitter conditions against the Soviet Red Army near the Don River. According to some reports, Hungarians lost 93,500 lives, while other sources put that number at 148,000.

What are the 5 causes of disaster? ›

What are the causes of natural disasters
  • (i) Global warming. Global warming is a serious contributor to natural disasters because it affects our globe in so many areas. ...
  • (ii) Natural activities in the earth's crust. ...
  • (iii) Tectonic movement. ...
  • (iv) Deforestation. ...
  • (v) Soil erosion. ...
  • (vi)Seismic activity.

What are the 3 causes of natural disasters? ›

Different disasters occur due to various causes. Causes for such calamities can be contributed to deforestation, soil erosion, and pollution.

What are the impacts of disaster? ›

In a disaster, you face the danger of death or physical injury. You may also lose your home, possessions, and community. Such stressors place you at risk for emotional and physical health problems. Stress reactions after a disaster look very much like the common reactions seen after any type of trauma.

What problems did the gold mine in Romania cause downstream? ›

An enormous "toxic bullet" of deadly cyanide that accidentally overflowed a dam at a Romanian gold mine has contaminated 250 miles of rivers in Hungary and Yugoslavia, killing millions of fish, shutting down water supplies and leaving a trail of aquatic devastation that will require years to repair.

Who was poisoned by cyanide? ›

On November 18, 1978, cult leader Jim Jones orchestrated a suicide of 918 followers in the jungles of Guyana at their settlement, Jonestown. The mass death relied heavily on cyanide-laced Flavor Aid, with followers lining up to drink the lethal poison.

How much did it cost to clean up the Baia Mare cyanide spill? ›

Damage: The spill from Baia Mare flowed into the Danube and Tisza rivers, contaminating drinking water of 2.4 million Hungarians, and killing 80 percent of aquatic life in the Serbian section of Tisza. Compensation: The clean-up was estimated to cost $170 million.

Where does cyanide come from in fires? ›

Smoke generated in structural fires from products composed of carbon and nitrogen contains various concentrations of hydrogen cyanide. Commercial products made up of materials such as wool, paper, cotton, silk and plastics may produce hydrogen cyanide when they burn.

What was the environmental impact of mines in Peru? ›

Peru's mining industry has been linked to a string of environmental issues in recent years including deforestation, pollution and the mistreatment of environmental activists.

How does illegal mining affect the US? ›

Illegal gold mining devastates the environment, causing deforestation, biodiversity and habitat loss as well as water, air and soil pollution through the release of toxic chemicals.

What's the main pollutant delivered to the bay by gold mining? ›

Mercury used to extract gold during California's Gold Rush in the mid 1800s is leaking into valleys below the gold mines. The toxic pollutants used during California's 19th century gold rush are still lingering in the state's rivers and valleys, says a new study.

Is the gold in the Sovereign Hill river real? ›

Is there still gold at Sovereign Hill? Yes! Visitors can try their luck panning for gold in the creek at Sovereign Hill. You'll find real gold in the creek which runs through the diggings!

What river was the gold rush in? ›

The best-known strike occurred at Sutter's Mill, near the Sacramento River in California, in 1848. On January 24 of that year, while John Sutter was having a sawmill built, his carpenter, James W. Marshall, found gold.

What is the name of the river from which the gold was found? ›

On January 24, 1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter originally from New Jersey, found flakes of gold in the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Coloma, California.

How much is the biggest gold nugget worth? ›

the largest 72kg gold nugget ever found (called the Welcome Stranger), today this nugget would be worth approximately $4.5M USD, discovered by two miners John Deason and Richard Oates on February 5, 1869, near Moliagul, in the state of Victoria, Australia. HO Ching and 18,442 others like this.

Is there still gold in Gold Hill NC? ›

Gold mining operations largely ceased in Gold Hill in 1915, but the town's rich mining heritage is still alive today. Gold Hill has harnessed its history to become a tourism destination. A walking trail through the 70-acre Gold Hill Mines Historic Park takes visitors to several of the former mining sites.

How can I find gold in a river? ›

Gold is found where water flow is altered by obstacles such as boulders and logs or by watercourse contours, such as bends in river. Gold can also be found where two rivers or streams come together. It is what's called a "confluence zone." Gold will tend to build up as a pay streak in these areas.

Where does the Danube River empty out? ›

It rises in the Black Forest mountains of western Germany and flows for some 1,770 miles (2,850 km) to its mouth on the Black Sea.

Can you make money panning for gold? ›

Gold panning does have a great deal of potential in becoming a very profitable pastime, and in order to be good at it, you need to learn skills that will give you the knowledge of where and how to pan for gold. The better you get at these skills, the more likely you will find those hidden treasures.

Is there still gold to be found in California? ›

Can you still find gold in California? Gold is still being deposited into streams, McKinney said, because the natural process that puts them into rivers is ongoing.

Where is the most gold found? ›

World's Largest Deposits of Gold

The massive deposits of the Witwatersrand mines in South Africa have produced more than 40 percent of the world's total production of gold.

What color is gold? ›

Its purest form is a bright yellow color, and it is extremely durable, highly malleable, and is usually found in nature in a mostly pure form. Gold forms in the Earth's crust and is widespread (in low concentrations) in most igneous rock.

Is there still gold to be found? ›

We do know that gold makes up about four parts per billion of the earth's crust. What we don't know, however, is precisely how much gold is still out there. The WGC estimates that there are 54,000 tonnes of “below-ground gold reserves” waiting to be mined.

Who found gold first? ›

They mined gold in Nubia around 2450 BC. An Egyptian alchemist named Zosimos was the first to find pure gold (24 centuries before Columbus reached the Americas). The discovery of gold is attributed to the ancient Egyptians, who made jewelry out of gold. It was at a time when other metals were scarce and valuable.


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