For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/ENV/79
Release Date:  22 June 2000
Cyanide Pollution in Danube Still Cause for Concern

 BELGRADE, 18 February (UNEP) -- According to results from water samples taken between Pancevo and the Iron Gate 1 Dam (between 15 and 17 February) by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) scientists, the levels of cyanide concentration in the river Danube in Yugoslavia are not an immediate threat to human health via drinking water supplies.  However, measurements indicate levels of concentration slightly above the recommended safe levels with regard to toxicity for certain fish species near the Iron Gates 1 Dam with Romania, and close monitoring of the pollution as it continues downstream is recommended.

 The scientists, members of a joint UNEP/Habitat Balkans Task Force team that were already working in Yugoslavia, took a series of water samples from the Danube near Pancevo, Tuesday, down to the Iron Gates Dam, Thursday, on the  border between Yugoslavia and Romania.  Eighteen samples were taken at different locations.  At 17 locations, levels of cyanide concentration were within the safety limit for drinking water but at one (Iron Gates 1 Dam), the limit was slightly exceeded.  However, there was evidence of cyanide that could be toxic for certain fish species.

 Earlier this week, as an emergency response to the cyanide spill at the Baia-Mare gold mine in northwestern Romania, the Task Force scientists, together with one of their mobile laboratories, were asked by UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, to take water quality samples from the river Danube.

 The scientists are part of a group which started work last Sunday on detailed environmental clean-up feasibility studies at four sites in Serbia (Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad and Bor) identified by the Task Force in its report, "The Kosovo Conflict -- Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements", as "hot spots" where pollution is serious and poses a threat to human health.

 During the week, the Task Force team, comprising eight experts from five countries and working with two mobile laboratories, have been conducting an analysis of the specific activities and technical requirements at the four "hot spots".  In a positive development, the scientists, which include two representatives from the Swiss-led FOCUS group, have also discovered that some of earlier recommendations of the Task Force have already been acted on.  These include:  Clean-up of exposed mercury at the Pancevo industrial complex; renewal of electricity supplies to the power plant at Bor with the consequence that severe air pollution from sulphur dioxide emissions has been reduced to pre-NATO conflict levels; and removal of some of the PCB contamination at the Bor transformer station.

 The current Task Force mission to Yugoslavia, which has been funded by Norway, Germany, Denmark and Finland, is part of the second phase of UNEP's work in the region.  As part of this phase, UNEP was present at the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe meeting on "Economic Reconstruction, Development and Cooperation", held from 10 to 11 February in Skopje.  The meeting discussed how the Task Force might contribute expertise for environmental assessments in other countries of the Balkans region, including the impact of refugee flows into Albania and Macedonia.

 Under the chairmanship of Pekka Haavisto, former Finnish Environment and Development Cooperation Minister, the Task Force was set up by Klaus Toepfer, in May 1999, to assess the environmental and human settlement consequences of the Balkans conflict.  The Task Force report, "The Kosovo Conflict -- Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements", is available on the Web at

 Since it was established, the Task Force has worked as an integral part of the United Nations system and in Kosovo continues to work within the framework of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).  Sixty experts, drawn from six United Nations agencies, 19 countries and 26 scientific institutions and non-governmental organizations, were involved in the various Task Force assessment missions.  Funding for the Task Force work (in the form of voluntary contributions) has come from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  Additional in-kind support was provided by Russia and Slovakia, and non-governmental organizations, including Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, the World Conservation Union, Green Cross and the World Conservation and Monitoring Centre.

 For more information, please contact:  Robert Bisset, UNEP Office of the Spokesman and Task Force Press Officer on mobile +41-79-206-3726, e-mail:  In Nairobi, contact: Tore J.Brevik, UNEP Spokesman on tel: (254-2) 623292, fax: 623692/3927, e-mail:

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