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Incident, Accident, Catastrophe: The Baia Mare Cyanide Spill
Unformatted Document Text:  enough to contain high but unexceptional levels of precipitations. The tailings pond was built through “construction by operation”, meaning that the retaining walls are built up by letting the solids from the waste water settle (UNEP2000). Special consideration was not given to local weather conditions, so the necessary dam reinforcement could not be achieved. Within less than a year of operations, there were two pipeline leakages, leaking pumping equipment, reeds growing in the containment pools, and high moisture in the dam (Reuters News Service 2000a). The Accident A Broken Dam Insert Table 1 The spill was the result of a combination of poor design and unusual weather conditions. The winter of 1999 to 2000 experienced an unusual amount of precipitation, resulting in unexpectedly large amounts of water accumulating in the pools. The situation was aggravated by a few days of warm temperatures, which melted some snow and ice. When the high levels of precipitation for which the design had not planned applied pressure to this poorly built dam, the dam’s crest could not withstand. On the night of January 30, 2000, the dam of the enclosure pool experienced a fissure. A 25-meter long section of the retaining wall caved and 10,000 cubic meters of tailings, including 50 to 100 tons of cyanide and unspecified amounts of heavy metals, overflowed (UNEP 2000). The spill entered the Sasar River and made its way into the Somes River, which crosses into Hungary, then entered the Tisa River and the Danube. The contaminated plume, about 60 to 70 kilometers long, traveled downstream at 2.1 to 2.4 kilometers per hour (McMahon 2000). It entered Hungary on February 1 and Yugoslavia on February 12. It flowed into the Danube and so returned to Romania, finally entering the Black

Authors: Argeseanu, Solveig.
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enough to contain high but unexceptional levels of precipitations. The tailings pond was built
through “construction by operation”, meaning that the retaining walls are built up by letting the
solids from the waste water settle (UNEP2000). Special consideration was not given to local
weather conditions, so the necessary dam reinforcement could not be achieved. Within less than
a year of operations, there were two pipeline leakages, leaking pumping equipment, reeds
growing in the containment pools, and high moisture in the dam (Reuters News Service 2000a).
The Accident
A Broken Dam
Insert Table 1
The spill was the result of a combination of poor design and unusual weather conditions.
The winter of 1999 to 2000 experienced an unusual amount of precipitation, resulting in
unexpectedly large amounts of water accumulating in the pools. The situation was aggravated
by a few days of warm temperatures, which melted some snow and ice. When the high levels of
precipitation for which the design had not planned applied pressure to this poorly built dam, the
dam’s crest could not withstand. On the night of January 30, 2000, the dam of the enclosure
pool experienced a fissure. A 25-meter long section of the retaining wall caved and 10,000 cubic
meters of tailings, including 50 to 100 tons of cyanide and unspecified amounts of heavy metals,
overflowed (UNEP 2000). The spill entered the Sasar River and made its way into the Somes
River, which crosses into Hungary, then entered the Tisa River and the Danube. The
contaminated plume, about 60 to 70 kilometers long, traveled downstream at 2.1 to 2.4
kilometers per hour (McMahon 2000). It entered Hungary on February 1 and Yugoslavia on
February 12. It flowed into the Danube and so returned to Romania, finally entering the Black


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