FOCUS-Cyanide spill from Romania polluting Hungary
It blamed Romania which admitted responsibility and in turn said it too was suffering from what it termed the worst such incident in the country for at least a decade.
"It is an unprecedentedly serious environmental catastrophe which obviously originated in Romania," said Gabor Horvath, spokesman for the Hungarian Foreign Ministry.
In Bucharest, Virgil Diaconu, Romania's deputy minister in charge of environmental protection, said: "This is the worst polluting spill in Romania in the past 10 years at least."
In the Hungarian town of Szolnok, Mayor Ferenc Szalay told Reuters that tons of dead fish were floating in the river. His city lies some 50 miles southeast of Budapest and was hit by the spill at mid-day.
"The ecological damage caused by this spill is of fantastic size," Szalay said. "Some 30 to 40 percent of the biological life of the river has been destroyed and tons of dead fish are floating in the Tisza."
Diaconu said the spill occurred last week at a gold tailings plant in Baia Mare, northwestern Romania.
Plant executives were not immediately available for comment.
Romanian Environment Ministry general manager Liliana Mara said the spill occurred on Jan. 31 when a protective wall of a dam at the Aurul smelter was damaged by massive snowfalls.
She said cyanide levels 700 times the normal level had been recorded in nearby river water after the spill, adding that the smelter had been closed pending investigations.
"I want to make it clear that we took immediate steps to minimize the effects of the spill," Mara said.
Diaconu said Romania had been in permanent contact with Hungarian authorities since the spill.
He said the environment ministers of the two countries planned to meet in the Romanian city of Satu Mare Thursday to discuss the issue.
Hungary has begun taking steps to obtain restitution from Romania, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
"It is an unprecedentedly serious environmental catastrophe which obviously originated in Romania," Horvath said.
Horvath said that the Romanian Ambassador to Hungary, Petru Cordos, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry Monday and that Hungary would be asking for restitution.
"We are confident that Romania will be fully cooperative in dealing with all and any consequences of this issue," Horvath said, noting that Romania wants to begin negotiations on joining the European Union and that environmental issues are a main concern of the EU.
Zoltan Varga, a Hungarian environmental expert, told the Hungarian news agency MTI that the environmental damage might be more serious than news reports had suggested and that some species of fish and insects may be wiped out.