WHY MUST WE SAVE VERESPATAK?
OPEN LETTER TO THE PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS IN THE CARPATHIAN BASIN ON THE WORLD DAY OF CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
Dear Parents and Grandparents
in the Carpathian Basin!
The land of our birth, in the heart of Europe, covers 330,000 square kilometers of the territory of the Carpathian Basin, which is naturally, historically and culturally an exceptionally rich natural territorial unit. Within it, the factors that form the different types of landscapes are the following: the structure of the land, its features, its climate, hydrogeology, plant and animal life and, in addition to these, the culture-creating activities of the people and the development of their environment. All these factors have blended together to form a unity, the like of which can not be found anywhere else on Earth. The fact that they coexist with nature has given the people and nations living in this territory a shared fate, and has formed them into a community, while the changing generations have woven into their culture their experiences and talents, which are indispensible for the present and for the future.
Climate change is unequivocally one of the greatest challenges of the XXI century.
Hungarian and international scientific research has proven that there will be considerable environmental and economic consequences of climate change, and the deciding factor in society will be the effects of the influence of man and nature on each other. According to the unanimous statements of the forecasters: „The probability of the incidence of unusual climatic events, their frequency, intensity and duration, will certainly increase.” Therefore, it can be expected that, in the coming decades, climate-change will pose profound strategic challenges for all the states of the world. Since we are faced with global changes, monitoring, analysis and management are possible only with worldwide collaboration. This can only be successful if the local and regional cooperation is not bound by political borders and, instead of the concept of sovereignty, solidarity and cooperation take precedence as the only alternative. This applies particularly to the eastern part of the Carpathian Basin, the 157,200 square kilometers of the watershed territory of the Tisza, which is shared by five states: Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Hungary, and which is populated by 14 million 410 thousand people who share the same fate. It is important to note that the territory of the Tisza and its watershed played an important role in the stabilization of the environment and farming of the entire Carpathian Basin, and they will continue to play this role in the future, particularly in the light of the consequences and effects the global climate-change will have on the Carpathian Basin. The eastern part of the Carpathian Basin is already experiencing a strong continental climate and there is often a lack of rainwater in the summer. The extent of the water flow of the Tisza and its tributaries is much wider than that of the Danube.
The Carpathian Basin – as a result of its climatic position between the oceanic, continental and Mediterranean influences, as well as the influence of the surrounding mountain ranges, which cause the diminishing rainfall – is a particularly vulnerable region of Europe, from the point of view of climate-change. The effects of global warming follow the borders of the climate zones. According to the climate models, the Mediterranean climate is continually advancing toward the Carpathian Basin. The temperature is rising every year. The annual rainfall is diminishing, in that it increases during spring and early summer and decreases during late summer and fall. It is expected that the number of days of rain will decrease, the frequency of heavy rainfall will increase and the dry seasons will lengthen. Extreme weather conditions (heat-waves, gales and floods) will increase in length and intensity. Therefore, climate-change will bring increasingly great challenges for the security of all of us. This is why we have to be prepared to reduce the negative effects and the considerable environmental and economic consequences.
Since the course of events playing out in the area of the Tisza are to a large extent the immediate or indirect consequences of the events that take place in the territory of the river’s watershed, we have to manage the Tisza and its watershed, divided up by state borders, as a coherent ecological unit. The quality of the water of the Tisza, its „life” depends on the environmental condition of the river’s watershed.
Since there are going to be considerable environmental and economic consequences of climate-change, we have to pay more attention to, and increase our efforts to secure the safety of the environmental condition of the Tisza watershed.
What are the dangers that place the environmental safety of the watershed territory in jeopardy?
Surveys that have been conducted up to the present indicate that an ecological bomb „is ticking” in the watershed, which in extreme weather conditions, e.g. storms, could cause catastrophes at any time. Particularly places that produce pollution, primarily the refuse dumps of the mines and the technological sludge containment areas, the drug and chemical plants, the producers of non-ferrous metals, all threaten with catastrophe the Tisza River and Romania, and within it, the tributaries of the Tisza that have their sources in the Transylvanian mountains and which flow down into Hungary. There could also be serious consequences if the salt mines under the Aknaszlatina in Sub-Carpathia (Ukraine) allow a large amount of salt to drain into the Tisza. Even more dangerous is the release of heavy metals (cadmium 1800 times, copper 58 times, chromium 7.7 times exceed the permitted levels) from the unproductive rocks from the gold-mine near Nagymuzsaly in Sub-Carpathia, on the summit of the Muzsaly Mountain, which are washed out into the ground during rains and melting snows.
In the entire territory of Romania, there are about 130 refuse dumps containing uranium, 5.5 million cubic meters of radiating matter, 55 million tons of poisonous waste, 2,250,000 acres (900,000 hectares) of mine-waste tainted with heavy metals and 200 thousand tons of industrial waste. The potential contaminating objects found in Transylvania, primarily the mine refuse dumps and the technological sludge containers, the drug and chemical plants and the metallurgical plants, producing non-ferrous metals, could all cause an environmental catastrophe.
On January 20, 2000, in the Romanian part of the Tisza watershed, in the county of Máramaros, the first ecological catastrophe in the Carpathian Basin occurred. At the AURUL Ltd. Romanian-Australian chemical plant, in Nagybánya, in the wake of the snow-melt, caused by heavy rains, the dam of the 237 acre containment lake (95 hectares) at Nagybozinta, which held the remains of the cyanide used for leaching out the gold, suddenly broke. The 25 meter-wide crack allowed 100,000 cubic meters in volume to escape, containing about 120 mg/liter of pure cyanide, copper-cyanide and other heavy metals combined with cyanide. This cyanide mixture spilled out onto about 10 acres (4 hectares) of cultivated land and flowed into the Zazar River. From here it flowed into the Lapos and Szamos Rivers, which flowed into the Tisza and then the Danube River, and eventually the cyanide pollution reached the Black Sea, and it had immediate biological consequences. The biological effects of the following waves of polluting heavy metals will be felt far into the future, because the heavy metals (lead, cadmium, copper and zinc) are insidious and difficult to trace.
As a result of the ecological catastrophe, 80% of the wild life of the Szamos and Tisza was destroyed (in Hungary alone, 1240 tons of fish died); moreover, the water management, tourism and agriculture suffered extensive damage. The company responsible for the damage, AURUL Ltd., disappeared without a successor. Reparation for the cost of the damages caused in Hungary (28.5 billion Hungarian Forints), has never been paid by anyone.
Since many large containers of heavy-metal waste can be found in Romania, in the territory of the Tisza watershed, when there are heavy rains and melting snows, it is inevitable that varying amounts of lead, cadmium, copper and zinc wash out into the rivers. In the county of Máramaros, in the catchment area of the Szamos River, plants working in the preliminary preparation of ore, like the Erzsébetbánya flotation, the Kapnik flotation, the Felsőbánya flotation and beside the Nagybánya Ore Preparation Works (central flotation, Zazar ore preparation, AURUL cyanide-leaching) altogether 15 sludge containment basins can be found; in the catchment area of the Viso River, and beside the Borsabánya flotation, 6 more containers can be found: the Novat defecator, Colbu 1, Colbu 2, and the Cisla defecator, subdivisions 1-3. In the area of the Zazar River, there are 15 of the same kind of dangerous sources of contamination, like the run-off from stripping in the Sulyo Külszin area, the water from the mines at Felsőbánya, the technological water and some of the run-off from the sludge container at Felsőtótfalu, the arsenic and pyrite run-off near the Central Flotation, the (non-technological) waste-water from the Central Flotation, the waste-water from the Phoenix Chemical Works and the industrial plants of the region, the waste-water from the Ólomkohó industrial plant at Fernezely, the run-off from the dross, the water from the adits of the mines at Kereszthegy and Veresvíz, the water from the mine tunnels in the region of Borpatak, some of the mine-water from the Zazar adit, and part of the community sewage of Felsőbánya and Nagybánya, the sewage from the community near the township of Zazar, the run-off from the communal garbage dump of Felsőújfalu and the technological water and run-off from the sludge containers at Nagybozinta (one of which had a breached dam on January 30, 2000).
Following the ecological catastrophe in Nagybánya in January, 2000, from the region of Máramaros County, within a period of eight years there have been five occasions when dangerous pollution has reached the Tisza River. One of these was the incident on March 10, 2000, when, only 40 days after the spill of January 30, another industrial spill occurred in the Romanian catchment area of the Tisza, in Borsabánya, on the premises of the mining company, where, as a result of the snow-melt and heavy rains, heavy metals were washed out of the sludge containment area - among them the extremely poisonous lead and copper – and the flotation sludge containing many chemicals. More than 20 thousand tons of poisonous sludge entered the Novac and Vaser creeks, from where it emptied into the Visó River and later into the Tisza River.
The reasons for the accident at Nagybánya on January 30, 2000 and that at Borsabánya on March 10, 2000 were investigated by the International Work Group for the Fact-finding Investigation of the Nagybánya Accident (the Nagybánya Work Group). In its report in Brussels on December 15, 2000, it stated that 1./ The facilities used for handling waste material were not appropriate. 2./ The Romanian licensing authorities allowed this type of facility to operate. 3./ The monitoring, the construction of the supporting walls, the operation and maintenance were not adequate and 4./ As a result of the mistakes listed in points 1-3, the severe but not unusual weather conditions led to the accidents. The Nagybánya Work Group advised that urgent measures be taken to identify and clean up the environmental dangers stemming from the abandoned containment basins and minimize the risks, and furthermore it made several suggestions for the tightening of the regulations.
However, the recommendations of the Nagybánya Work Group were not enacted in Romania. This is why, after the accident at Nagybánya in January, 2000 and that at Borsabánya in March, 2000, from the region of Máramaros County, within eight years, there were five occasions when dangerous pollution reached the Tisza River.
On July 28, 2008, as a result of the serious flooding in the northern part of the country, caused by the heavy rains (in seven counties, 167 villages were under water), water containing heavy metals, and most likely cyanide too, flowed from the Colbu 2 container into the Colbu 1 container, from where a large part of the polluted waste-water flowed into the Csiszla Creek and from there through the Visó River into the Tisza.
The Hungarian authorities measured manganese, copper, iron, lead and strong cadmium pollution from the Hungarian-Ukrainian border throughout the area of the Tisza Tivadar township. It was fortunate that there was not a new environmental catastrophe in the Tisza. The two containers, Colbu 1 and Colbu 2, together store more than 8 million tons of sludge containing heavy metals.
There is often pollution in the rivers in other parts of Transylvania too. In the Transylvanian Érchegység (ore-mountains), around the villages of Abrudbánya, Verespatak and Aranyosbánya, are the most dangerous defecators and sludge producers.
On July 16, 2008, as a result of heavy rains, a serious environmental accident took place in the Aranyos River, which originates in the Bihar Mountains, and meanders between the Gyulai Alps and the Transylvanian Ore Mountains, which was not reported in the Romanian media. From the Valea Sesei defecator, near Nagylupsa (Lupsa), salt water and sludge containing heavy metals flowed into the Aranyos River, causing serious destruction in the life of the river. The Aranyos flows into the Maros, which, on the territory of Hungary, flows into the Tisza. Therefore it would have been reasonable for the responsible Romanian authorities to inform the Hungarian authorities of the severe environmental accident. However, the Romanian authorities „forgot” to notify the Hungarian authorities.
Not only the rivers are becoming polluted, but the water below the surface is also vulnerable. One example of this is the alluvium from the River Maros, which has been divided up by the state borders. The extent of the Maros alluvium on the surface is 2210 km˛ (58%) in Romania and 1600 km˛ (42%) in Hungary. Since the alluvium has such a close hydraulic connection with the sub-surface waters of both countries, no matter where the adverse influences come from, they affect this common system and this affects the quality of the water supply of the Maros alluvium.
The ground surface is polluted and continues to be polluted!
As was already mentioned, the catastrophe which occurred on January 30, 2000, in Nagybánya, released 100 thousand cubic meters, with about 120 mg/liter of pure cyanide, copper-cyanide and other heavy-metal complex cyanides in the polluted sludge. The biological effects of several waves of heavy-metal pollution will remain for a very long time, because the heavy metals (lead, cadmium, copper and zinc) are insidious and the effects are difficult to detect. However there are effects, not only in the rivers but in the land contiguous to the rivers.
An international investigatory group, led by Illés Fehér of The Hungarian Academy of Sciences – supported by the János Arany Foundation and the Executive Council Academic Secretaryship of the Vajdaság, from May 23, 2001 researched for ten years the changes in the ecological structure of a 60-152 kilometer stretch of the Tisza between Kanizsa and Becse, with particular reference to the January 30, 2000 catastrophe at Nagybánya and the ensuing pollution of cyanide and heavy metals. Among the startling results of the research, perhaps the gravest was the detection of heavy-metal pollution in the land on the banks of the Tisza, and the considerable extent of the accumulation in the cultivated plants.
Among the heavy metals, surprisingly high was the concentration of barium (Ba) in the carrots and summer cabbage (respectively 15.6 and 35.42 μg/l); of cadmium (Cd) in carrots and summer cabbage (respectively 0.78 and 2.06 μg/l); of chromium (Cr) in summer cabbage (9.09 μg/l); of copper (Cu) in carrots, summer cabbage and in black and red-currants (respectively 11.65, 17.40, 10.34 and 9.31 μg/l); of gallium (Ga) in summer cabbage and red-currants (respectively 4.43 and 2.76 μg/l); of nickel (Ni) in summer cabbage and red-currants (respectively 9.55 and 1.17μg/l); of lead (Pb) in carrots, summer cabbage and red-currants (respectively 4.97, 8.13 and 1.36 μg/l); of strontium (Sr) in carrots, broccoli, summer and winter cabbage, and also black and red-currants (respectively 16.77, 10.67, 93.60, 12.21, 7.13 and 9.20 μg/l), of vanadium (V) in summer cabbage (3.19 μg/l) and Zinc (Zn) in carrots, broccoli, summer and fall cabbage, as well as in black and red-currants (respectively 31.18, 24.96, 51.38, 24.79, 19.40 and 14.97 μg/l). In the case of Cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu) and lead (Pb), the threshold limit was exceeded several times in one or other cultivated plant.
In spite of the fact that the research group was unable to demonstrate the presence of molybdenum (Mo) or selenium (Se) in the ground, Mo was found in carrots, broccoli, summer and fall cabbage as well as in black and red-currants (respectively 0.26, 0.84, 2.42, 0.65, 0.24 and 0.24 μg/l), and Se was found in black and red-currants (1.18 and 0.72 μg/l).
The heavy metals are not only deposited in rivers, they are also carried on the wind! From the dried-up sludge containment basins, containing large quantities of heavy metals, the wind carries materials containing lead, copper, zinc and other poisons, polluting the air and the surrounding land, the villages, arable land, pastures and orchards. For example: the sludge containment basin at Zazar-Nagybozinta contains large quantities of lead, copper and zinc, which the wind picks up and carries to the neighboring territory. In the region of Nagybánya, in the grass of the meadows, in the ears of corn, in vegetables and fruit, large concentrations of heavy metals have been found.
Without claiming to be complete, I have briefly outlined the environmental condition of the catchment territory of the Tisza and the sources of pollution so dangerous to the plant and animal life of this area. I have also reported on the results of the investigation of the 60-152 kilometer section of the Tisza’s contiguous lands, with particular emphasis on the pollution of the land by heavy metals and the considerable accumulations of these in the cultivated plants.
After this and on the basis of this, the question arises:
How is it possible that in Europe, after the environmental catastrophe of January 30, 2000, that there is now a new plan, when the number of potential sources of danger, listed above, has increased, disregarding the expected effects of climate change, to use strip-mining with cyanide technology to extract gold in the catchment area of the Maros River, in Verespatak?
In spite of the categorical Romanian and international protests for the past ten years, the implementation of a plan to carry out an exceptionally high-risk gold-mining project, the length of which and the effects of which are unknown, and which poses unacceptable dangers, is being accelerated. The Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), established as the investor in the Canadian-Romanian chemical company (which already the President of the Republic of Romania and the Romanian government support), is pressing for the opening of the mine, which severely threatens the wild-life of the Maros and Tisza Rivers, and in the event of a catastrophe, the pollution could enter the Danube and the Black Sea.
VERESPATAK (Rosia Montana) is a village in Transylvania. Its name has become familiar to many since the media brought to the world’s attention the plan of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), a Canadian-Romanian chemical company, to mine gold using the strip-mining method. If the Romanian government permits the opening of this mine, the planned project will be the largest strip-mining project in Europe, in the center of Transylvania, in the catchment area of the Maros River, a tributary of the Tisza.
According to the presently available data, the RMGC will produce a yield of 225 cubic meters of rocks annually, obtained by detonation and the use of cyanide technology. With an annual use of 13 thousand tons of natrium-cyanide, and employing 350 workers, in the course of 16 years, it would like to seize in the southern part of the central Transylvanian mountains, in the Transylvanian Érchegység (ore mountains), in the famous Aranynégyszög (Gold Square), in VERESPATAK (Alburnus Maior), under the former Roman settlement and hidden in the surrounding mountains, the still to be discovered 330 tons of gold and 1600 tons of silver. The planned project - if it comes to pass – will erase 4 mountains, the archeological mining remains of the Roman times and the Middle Ages, 10 churches, 12 cemeteries, 958 farms, 900 dwellings and will cause 2150 inhabitants to be relocated.
Only a few monuments would remain -- Verespatak (Rosia Montana) town center with its churches, a few excavated Roman archeological remains and entrances to mines. The preservation of these, particularly in regard to the archeological monuments, would mean only the preservation of small parts of these monuments.
The larger part of Alburnus Maior, the Roman mining settlement of the second and third century AD, would be lost forever if the mining project takes effect, for the mine-corridors, in the heart of the mountain, which from time to time reveal sensational artifacts, would be destroyed so that they could hardly be noticed. Several professional and civil groups have proposed that the mining settlement be saved and preserved as a World Heritage site, which could be used to promote cultural tourism and in the long run, in contrast to the short life of the mine, it could attract foreign business.
The implementation of the mining project would also cause irreversible damage to the natural surroundings. It would endanger the existence of or even destroy numerous plants and animals, and would change the area into a lunar landscape. The greatest danger is posed by the planned use of cyanide technology. The mined ore will be treated with natrium-cyanide (NaCN), which will release the gold and silver from the ore, along with other materials like the extremely poisonous heavy metals (lead, cadmium, copper and zinc), the biological effects of which will „only” be shown in the long run and are difficult to detect. This is why several countries of the European Union have banned the use of cyanide technology. The European Parliament, in May, 2010 – on the basis of the proposal of EP representatives János Áder and László Tőkés – drew up a resolution banning the use of cyanide technology in mining, which the European Commission has not yet implemented.
In the valley of Szarvaspatak, with the destruction of a mining community of longstanding tradition, there is a proposal to construct a „suitable” defecator, a containment basin for cyanide and heavy-metal polluted sludge, 1500 acres (600 hectares) in area, with a 180 meter-high dam, which would be forty times larger than that of Nagybánya, the breach of which caused the memorable January 30, 2000 environmental catastrophe, for which the Australian-Romanian company AURUL (its new name is Transgold), commonly called the „death factory”, was responsible.
As a result of the technology that will be used, the above mentioned containment basin would be filled with dangerous refuse or sludge containing cyanide, arsenic, cadmium, iron, mercury and nickel compounds in large concentrations, which seriously threaten the natural surroundings of this territory, the plant and animal life of the Aranyos, Maros and Tisza rivers. In the event of a breach in the dam, the sludge released from the defecator, polluted with cyanide and heavy metals, will cause an ecological catastrophe in the region that will have unforeseeable consequences, and in the territory along the rivers, not only in Romania, but everywhere, the inhabitants of the densely populated cities like Torda, Aranyosgyeres, Nagyenyed, Gyulafehérvár, Déva, Arad, Makó, Szeged, Magyarkanizsa, Zenta, Óbecse and Titel will be placed in danger.
Further aggravating the situation is the fact that the Romanian government has, up to the present, not been able, and in the future will not be able to ensure the security of the mines and the containment basins. Yet such a gigantic investment would require a robust system of protection that could prevent an environmental catastrophe if the first line of defense failed, for example in the event of extreme climate conditions (heavy rainfall) (or an earthquake. Transl.)
The investment in the gold-mine at Verespatak poses a huge risk for the national security of Hungary and all the affected countries. If it comes to pass, the future of our children and grandchildren in our homeland in the Carpathian Basin will be in jeopardy!
We know that, in the spirit of the accord which the UN agreed to in New York, on November 20, 1989, which concerns the Rights of Children, children have the right to live and grow up in a healthy environment, “through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution.” / Accord, Article 24. „Every child has the inherent right to life.” / Accord, Article 6.
„The right to life is that right from which all the other rights originate. The guarantee of this right is the highest responsibility of the people responsible for the nations of the world.” / The Hague Declaration, The Hague, March 11, 1989.
In the interest of guaranteeing our children and grandchildren their right to live in a healthy environment, we must prevent the planned gigantic strip-mining of the Verespatak gold-mine, using cyanide technology. If we are successful, then we will prevent an ecological bomb that has incalculable consequences from detonating, and we will augment the environmental security of the Maros catchment area. Since water is one of the most important strategical treasures of the future, upon which all forms of life depend, we must protect it and preserve it in the interest of the survival of future generations. This is not only the task and responsibility of those who make the decisions, but it is the task and responsibility of each and every one of us.
This is why we must save Verespatak!
If we are successful, then Verespatak will be the symbol of cooperation, solidarity and the rescue of our common future.
Let us work together for nature and the health of our children!
This is why we should say NO to the implementation of the gold-mine program and say YES to
· the immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Nagybánya Work Group issued on December 15, 2000,
· the observation of and adherence to the international agreements (Ramsar Agreement; UN Biodiversity Agreement; Danube Agreement; Helsinki Agreement of 1992 in London, containing the „Water and Health” amendment; the European Union Water Directive; the UN Rights of Children Agreement, New York, November 20, 1989, Article 24), the insistence on the importance of the protection of the rivers, the water-life and the water-habitats, from the point of view of biodiversity,
· the immediate enforcement in all of Europe of the resolution of the European Parliament in May, 2010, banning the use of cyanide technology in mining,
· the registration of the 2000 year-old Roman Age settlement of Verespatak (Alburnus Maior) and its surroundings on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in the category of cultural landscapes,
· the prompt development and implementation of the Program for the Sustainable Development of the Tisza catchment area, which would make essential the establishment of a research and development center (Tisza Institute).
· the implementation of the plans to establish the Carpathian Basin Environmental and Climate Safety Center in Kiskunfélegyháza.
In the interest of implementing the above-mentioned tasks, it is necessary to develop the Carpathian Basin Sustainable Development Strategy, which would extend to the natural, economic and social areas and their influence on each other.
In the definition of the tasks involving environmental protection and climate safety, the protection of the eco-systems in nature, the protection of the natural resources (air, water, land, mineral raw materials), the security of the basic human needs and the protection of the critical infrastructure should take precedence.
The most important task of the development of the preservation of the catchment area of the Tisza, with the long-range water-management and the elimination of the sources of pollution, would guarantee an amelioration of the quality of life of the inhabitants, the strengthening of the environmental safety, and the protection of the environmental and natural assets.
To this end, the five states that have territory in the catchment areas of the watershed (Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Hungary) would require a land-development program, which would make possible, without regard to borders, the implementation of a cooperative effort, more effective than has hitherto been possible, to protect the forests, meadows and bodies of water, manage floods and protect the environment and nature, as well as ensure climate safety.
Let us ask the Governments and the European Commission, as well as the international financial organizations to do whatever is possible in the interest of guaranteeing future generations the right to a healthy environment, and ask them to offer their financial support to the Carpathian Basin Sustainable Development Strategy.
Kiskunfélegyháza, November 20, 2011
Translated on October 22, 2012
6100 Kiskunfélegyháza, Szegedi út 45.
Tel.: 06-76-462-152, mobil: 06-70-285-5963