Romanian mum of two tells how her family was wiped out by deadly mining cyanide spill and warns people off gold rush in Sperrins
ERIKA Seas has good reason to warn people not to ‘rush’ into gold mining in the Sperrin Mountains.
The Romanian mum of two says she came to the North of Ireland 11 years ago after many of her family died prematurely of cancer following an environmental disaster caused by gold mining. She believes they – and thousands like them – victims of a massive cyanide poison flood that into the river. The Baia Mare disaster is regarded as the worst environmental disaster in Europe since the Chernobyl disaster.
It happened after a mining company said it could safely clean up toxic tailings left from gold mining, moving the poisonous material to a reservoir. Catastrophically the dam burst in 2000 and spilled 3.5 million cubic feet of cyanide-contaminated water into rivers, affecting Romania, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria. Earlier this year, Walkabout Resources, an Australian mining company, said it had made “very exciting” discoveries while searching for precious metals in the Slieve Gallion area of the Sperrins. The firm said it had found the presence of cobalt-copper-silver in the area while searching for gold.
And it said analysis of regional data for Slieve Gallion ment it was one of the highest priority areas in the North of Ireland for base metal and gold exploration. But Erika, who lives in Moneymore, says lessons should be learned about the past. “Even though we lived hundreds of kilometres from the cyanide spill the wind did its thing and the water did its thing so it had a devastating effect on a Hughes area for years,” she said. Her mother fell I’ll and died at the age of 46. “She was ill for over six years. My grandmother passed away when she was 80 but by the time she was 66 she had buried her third child.”
After her mum passed, Erika lost an uncle at 32 and an aunt at 29 – all from cancer. “We come from a family where people lived long into their 80s normally and in very good health.” In the gold extraction process, rock is smashed to dust, mixed with water, then cyanide is added to “leach” the gold out. The Hungarian government took a case against the Aurul company which caused the spill. After the spill, the River Some had cyanide concentrations of over 700 times the permitted levels. The Some flows into the Tisza, Hungary’s second largest river, which then flows into the Danube. The spill contaminated the drinking supplies of more than 2.5 million Hungarians.
“When the catastrophe happened, the owners run away,” said Erika. “Even before the big spill there had been other accidents but there were never any documents or anything done about them. Before her mother died, Erika had been researching what could have caused her illness. She started looking at her family and work colleagues.
“Most of them either had cancer or they had already passed away – killed with cancer and most of them at young ages,” Erika said. Unlike previous incidents, Baia Mare was too big to hide. But Erika warns companies will use wealth to frustrate justice. “Hungary is prosecting the owner of the mine,” she said. “Even after 18 years, it is still not finished.
” The mine’s Australian owner sold to a Canadian company and went bankrupt so they all washed their hands of it.” While the owners left, the locals had to live in the middle of the pollution. “There was no more fishing in the river,” Erika said. “They pulled over 1,300 tons of dead fish from the rivers. ” Plants were dying. About 20 species of fish have disappeared from the local river.”
Erika, who runs her own business as a coppersmith, says there is no suggestion Walkabout Resources will not take all possible safety measures, the prospect of gold mining in her adopted home country has brought back many bad memories. “It’s very sad to see families where there is only half a family because the others have passed away due to cancer. It’s unbelievable.
“Everybody is asking me why I came to the North of Ireland. I am happy to tell you. Because here everything is green. Here there is always fresh air, we can drink the water from the tap, and I think we are so, so blessed here. They shouldn’t throw that out.” Last month Walkabout Resources said work on Slieve Gallion to date had consisted of soil sampling and a limited airborne survey to aid in the determination for potential mineral deposits.
A spokesman said: “In this early phase of exploration, our plans within our awarded licence areas only extend to collecting soil and rock chip samples at surface to shallow depths and on a very limited scale. “Preliminary exploration work has been carried out in these licence areas. No chemicals of any type are used in the work we are doing. ” In any area where work is carried out, Walkabout will meet with relevant stakeholders and landowners to inform them of our work. We should stress again, this is merely early stage soil sampling as per our licence. “Walkabout will assess the results of its exploration surveys before making any further decisions about how to proceed with our work in the North of Ireland.
With many thanks to: Steven Moore and Anton McCabe for their exclusive story with the Sunday World.
Follow this link to find out more: https://metamag.org/2018/07/31/local-communities-work-to-stop-northern-irish-mining-boom/amp/