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Baia Mare Cyanide Disaster

Baia Mare, Northwestern Romania


January 30, 2000 8
In removing the last remnants of gold and silver from discarded mine tailings, AURUL, an
Australian-Romanian joint venture, used a cyanide-based “heap leaching” method to more
purely extract the precious metals. This technology, usually used in sealed vats – or in the
case of Baia Mare, on large exposed piles of waste rock – enables miners to re-mine waste
materials for very small concentrations of precious metals. In 2000, a dam used to isolate
the cyanide-laced water near Baia Mare failed, and sent 100,000 cubic meters of toxic water
into the Szamos and Tisza rivers, which flows toward Hungary. Shortly after the incident,
Romanian officials found cyanide levels 700 times above normal in nearby river water and
Hungarian officials measured cyanide levels 300 times above the threshold of the Hungar-
ian pollution standards. Copper concentrations exceeded the pollution threshold by 40 to
160 times, the zinc concentration was twice the standard and the lead concentration 5 to 9
times greater than the standard.