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2000 cyanide spill caused tightening of European regulations

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(BUCHAREST) - The European Union tightened legislation on cyanide in the wake of the Baia Mare disaster in 2000, when a spill in a Romanian gold mine severely polluted the Danube and tributary rivers.

Cyanide is widely used in the extraction or leaching of gold from ore, also in Europe where gold deposits are bound with other metals and need to be separated.

A 2006 EU directive includes strict requirements for tailings (residue) in the mining industry. Mines opened after 2008 should not emit waste exceeding a cyanide concentration of 10 milligrams per litre.

"The EU directive is in principle good but must now be effectively implemented," especially in eastern Europe, the World Wide Fund for Nature said on Monday.

Though Europe allows the use of cyanide in mining, some countries like Germany, Czech Republic and Hungary forbid it completely, and in 2010, the European Parliament called for these national bans to extend to the continent as a whole.

But the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, believed a blanket ban "is not justified from environmental and health perspectives", the office of the European commissioner on Environment told AFP.

"A general ban on cyanide use would imply the closure of existing mines operating on the basis of the stringent standards which would be detrimental to employment without additional environmental and health added value", it added.

Two gold mine in Sweden are among those using cyanide in Europe. Svartliden used 263 tons last year, according to official figures given to AFP.

In Romania, the mine planned by the Canadian firm Gabriel Resources would use about 12,000 tons a year, according to the project's environmental impact assessment.

The Commission says that if alternative techniques to extract gold emerge in the future, "the debate may well be re-opened".

It suggests alternatives: "significant amounts of gold could be extracted from WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) in Romania, in particular from mobile phones".

"Increasing the collection and recycling of e-waste (from electronic devices containing gold parts) in Romania could mean that less mining and hence less use of cyanide would be required".

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