Baia Mare is a region in Northeastern Romania, near the Hungarian border. It is the site of a developed gold mine, which used a widespread leaching method to extract the metal from the low-grade ore, called gold cyanidation. In it the material is grinded to a fine powder and then mixed with water to create a kind of pulp. A further ingredient, cyanide salt, is then added, which binds to the gold ions, making them soluble in water. This allows them to be separated from the rock, but leaves behind large quantities of cyanide contaminated water. At Baia Mare this dangerous by-product was stored in a huge water dam near the site.
On the 30th January, after heavy snowfall, the dam wall burst, releasing 100,000 cubic meters of toxic water, containing an estimated 100 tons of cyanide, into the Somes River. From there it quickly spread into the much larger Tisza river and into Hungary and Serbia. It contaminated the drinking water of 2.5 million Hungarian citizens, but the biggest casualty was the wildlife. For a large stretch virtually all life in the river was killed and even further on beyond the Serbian border more than 80% of all living things were wiped out. More than 200 tons of fish died, as well as many foxes, otters and eagles.
At least five species are believed to have gone completely extinct. Finally the water flowed into the Danube where it again poisoned the waters of Romania and Bulgaria. The Romanian government claimed the fish died from the cold and they had no fault in the disaster.
In 2009 the popular German band Rammstein released a song titled “Donaukinder”, which is rumoured to be about the accident. In it the fish and other animals in the river are its children and the question “where are the children” refers to their major loss of population.