Baia Mare cyanide spill


On January 30th 2000 a retaining wall failed at the Aurul gold processing plant in Baia Mare on the Romanian-Hungarian border, releasing 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-contaminated water containing approximately 100 tonnes of cyanides.

The toxins spilled over farmland and reached the Someş, Tisza and Danube rivers, killing fish and other wildlife and poisoning the drinking water of over 2,5 million Hungarians. The Someş river had cyanide concentrations of over 700 times the permitted levels. In addition to cyanide, heavy metals like copper, zinc and lead also contaminated the river.

Authorities in the two countries immediately issued an alarm which prevented human fatalities, but wildlife was particularly affected with virtually all living things killed in one stretch of the Tisza river. 62 species of fish were affected, of which 20 are protected species. In Hungary, volunteers removed the dead fish from the water to prevent the toxins spreading across the food chain.

After the cyanide entered the Danube, the large volume of the river's water diluted it, but in some sections it still remained as high as 50 times the permitted levels.

The local fishing industry was also affected. The spill reached as far as the Danube in Serbia with residents along the riverbanks noticing water full of dead fish flowing by. Up to 100 people, mostly children, were hospitalised after eating the contaminated fish.

Aurul, the mine operator, is a joint venture company formed by the Australian company Esmeralda Exploration and the Romanian government.

Gold mines use cyanide to separate gold from rocks.

Currently, there is huge resistance in Romania over a proposed gold mine at Roşia Montană. The rich mineral resources of the Roşia Montană area have been exploited since Roman times. The state-run gold mine was forced to close in late 2006 in advance of Romania's accession to the EU, but Gabriel Resources of Canada now want to replace it with a new mine. This has caused huge controversy in Romania related to the environmental impact that the production of gold using cyanide will have on the environment in the long run, but also because of the social aspect of the mine - the entire historic village of Roşia Montană will have to be moved.

The campaign against the cyanide mining at Roşia Montană was one of the largest campaigns over a non-political cause in the last 20 years in Romania. A plethora of organizations spoke out against the project. Nevertheless, in late 2009, the Romanian government announced it made starting the project a priority.


Photo Gallery

Video Gallery

No comments added yet


WWF staff

Occupation: WWF staff
Location: Bulgaria


Edit POI Information

You can edit this Danube + article by adding information - tags, links, photos, videos, content.


Baia Mare | cyanide | toxic spill | Romania | Hungary | Serbia | The Tisza River | Aurul