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Incident, Accident, Catastrophe: The Baia Mare Cyanide Spill
Unformatted Document Text:  It was called the worst disaster since Cernobyl. A wave of cyanide and heavy metals spilled from a gold processing plant in Romania and moved quickly from one river to the next, through Romania, Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria, killing tens of thousands of fish and other wildlife and poisoning drinking water. In many ways, this is a simple story: a failed retaining wall. In other ways, it is complicated: a story of changing global systems, new technology, power relations and maneuvering, baselines, safeguards, and volatile chemicals. In some ways, this is only an incident, a minor disturbance in an industry that continues unaffected. In other ways, it is a catastrophe, another insult against ecosystems and populations that have suffered so much pollution that additional damage is hard to prove. This paper attempts to walk the narrow line between the competing narratives of the 2000 cyanide spill into the Danube. It explores the accident, its consequences, and the circumstances under which it occurred. The accident emerged from circumstances at the global, local, and proximate levels. While the spill itself is the focal point of the accident, the emergency responses surrounding it and the dissemination of contaminants and publicity that followed it are indispensable elements. I propose a three-by-three tier approach, the skeleton of which is shown in Figure 1. The first part of the paper will describe the details of the event, allowing the reader to fill in the nine boxes for him or herself. The second part of the paper discusses the author’s interpretation of how the boxes would be filled. Along the way, I illustrate how an incident becomes an accident becomes a catastrophe. Insert Figure 1 Methods I collected reports of the accident, including newspaper articles, radio and television transcripts, and investigation findings. The sources included journalistic reporting, press releases, and

Authors: Argeseanu, Solveig.
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It was called the worst disaster since Cernobyl. A wave of cyanide and heavy metals spilled
from a gold processing plant in Romania and moved quickly from one river to the next, through
Romania, Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria, killing tens of thousands of fish and other wildlife and
poisoning drinking water. In many ways, this is a simple story: a failed retaining wall. In other
ways, it is complicated: a story of changing global systems, new technology, power relations
and maneuvering, baselines, safeguards, and volatile chemicals. In some ways, this is only an
incident, a minor disturbance in an industry that continues unaffected. In other ways, it is a
catastrophe, another insult against ecosystems and populations that have suffered so much
pollution that additional damage is hard to prove.
This paper attempts to walk the narrow line between the competing narratives of the 2000
cyanide spill into the Danube. It explores the accident, its consequences, and the circumstances
under which it occurred. The accident emerged from circumstances at the global, local, and
proximate levels. While the spill itself is the focal point of the accident, the emergency
responses surrounding it and the dissemination of contaminants and publicity that followed it are
indispensable elements. I propose a three-by-three tier approach, the skeleton of which is shown
in Figure 1. The first part of the paper will describe the details of the event, allowing the reader
to fill in the nine boxes for him or herself. The second part of the paper discusses the author’s
interpretation of how the boxes would be filled. Along the way, I illustrate how an incident
becomes an accident becomes a catastrophe.
Insert Figure 1
Methods
I collected reports of the accident, including newspaper articles, radio and television transcripts,
and investigation findings. The sources included journalistic reporting, press releases, and


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