A spillage of mine waste water containing cyanide has killed thousands of fish and birds on the Tisza river in Romania and Hungary. Reports claim that the Aurul SA project tailings dam, at the Baia Mare gold mine in northwest Romania, overflowed on 30 January after heavy rain and snow.

The Australian company Esmeralda, with 50% ownership of the mine, said no tailings were spilled but an overflow occurred over a 25m length of the tailings dam which has a total length of 3.8km.

Esmeralda officials emphasised that the incident was an overflow and not a structural failure or leak in the dam. According to a UK report by The Guardian, Brett Mont-gomery, chairman of Esmeralda Exploration said: ‘There is no doubt that a significant amount of water overflowed the dam but this is not an ecological catastrophe.’

Romania’s Environment Min-istry has said that the cyanide in the river was 700 times the normal level. Hungarian officials have complained of widespread bird and fish deaths in the Tisza river, which flows from Romania into Hungary, as a result of the cyanide spill. Elemer Szalma, a hydrobiologist from Szeged in Hungary said: ‘If I am optimistic, I would say it will take 10 to 12 years to recover. If I am pessimistic I would say that life in the river Tisza will never recover from this.’

Hungarian towns have closed water intakes along the river and Romania has ordered the closure of the Aurul plant pending investigation.