Just over 16 years ago, at the end of January in the year 2000, an ecological calamity occurred that since became known as the Baia Mare disaster. Thousands of cubic meters of water contaminated by cyanide, spilled over into the Sasar River at the Bozinta Mare gold mining works in Romania. Although only a relatively minor waterway, the Sasar nonetheless connects to a network of rivers and by the time the cyanide eventually made its way to the Danube, the effects were already catastrophic. Thousands upon thousands of tons of fish
were killed, and the consequences for mammalian, bird and insect life equally grim. The company responsible, Aurul, attempted to carry out a damage limitation exercise, firstly in trying to impede the flow of cyanide from the source, but later in preserving the company's image – especially as Aurul was a joint venture between the Romanian government and Esmeralda Exploration
, an Australian mining giant with a lot, in terms of reputation, to lose. That the company changed its name to Transgold shortly after speaks volumes about its approach to the whole disaster.
According to Aurul, the disaster was an “unfortunate” side product of unusual weather conditions and a dam which proved inadequate for the task of collecting the cyanide by-product of gold mining. Due to the extremely high rainfall of the preceding winter, more water than was expected to be the case collected in the cyanide pools and were frozen there in the subsequent weeks of an equally unexpected cold snap. Those two factors, combined with a final freak bit of weather in the form of unseasonal highs which melted the ice rather rapidly than usual, placed too much pressure on the dam which eventually gave way and released a fissure within its main wall. From the dam the cyanide flowed into the Sasar River, from there into the Somes, then into the Tisa and from thereon into the mighty Danube itself and eventually the Black Sea. The spill released an amount of cyanide 7000 times above the permitted levels and affected the drinking water of 2.5 million people. The numbers of river dwelling creatures were devastated, the whole length of the river from where the spill began, whilst the directors of Aurul shook their heads in sympathy and bemoaned the freak conditions that had led the region to this sorrowful state of affairs. Of course, by this point anyone with an even remotely investigative eye would be questioning a process that would necessitate the damming of a substance as deadly as cyanide in the first place.
(The Baia Mare disaster: 16 years of inaction