French team confirms poison in water supply

By PETER GREEN  |  Dec. 29, 1989
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NADLAC, Romania -- A member of a French medical team said Friday that doctors determined nerve gas was dumped into a Romanian town's water supply during the anti-Ceausescu revolt, and five people were seriously poisoned before the substance diluted.

Once uprising leaders discovered the apparent sabotage in the municipal water tank in Sibiu, they drained the contaminated supply, said Auvin Heyndrickx, a Belgian doctor who treated some of the victims.

Heyndrickx said he went to Sibiu with a team of doctors from the French relief group 'Doctors Without Borders' upon hearing unconfirmed reports of the poisoning, which townspeople attributed to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's hated Securitate police force.

Set in the Transylvanian mountains of western Romania with a population of more than half a million, Sibiu was lorded over by Nicu Ceausescu, who was nabbed by citizens last week and remained under arrest by the new government. The government executed his father and mother, Elena, Monday on charges of 'genocide' and other crimes.

Heyndrickx, a professor of toxicology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, spoke with United Press International as his team passed through the town of Nadlac near the Hungarian border on their way back to France.

The French team determined that two highly toxic nerve gases, known as sarin and VX, were dumped in liquid form into Sibiu's water on Dec. 20. Iraq, Libya and possibly Romania are the main producers of the poisons, Heyndrickx said.

Five peoplewere hospitalized with severe poisoning, he said, describing their symptoms as vomiting and 'unknown brain damage.'

Heyndrickx attributed the relatively low number of injuries to the low concentration of the poisons in the water.

'The quantity was very diluted,' he said.

He held out hope that the brain damage suffered by the five victims would not be severe, but said the success of their recovery would remain unclear for days.

City workers drained and inspected the water tower before beginning the lengthy refilling process, he said.

Heyndrickx said first aid supplies from around the world had arrived in ample quantities in Sibiu and other towns in western Romania, but said long-term medical supplies and equipment are in critically short supply.

Baby formula and infant foods are desperately needed in Sibiu, as are antibiotics, anesthetics, surgical gloves and other supplies.

'In the Sibiu pediatric hospital there is terrible malnutrition among the children, who are completely underfed,' he said. 'They don't even have powdered milk.'

Foodstuffs have been in short supply in Romania despite strict rationing, which was halted this week by the new government.

Also in one of its first acts, the ruling National Salvation Front government Wednesday abolished a Ceausescu-imposed nutrition scheme that used pseudo-scientific methods to justify harmfully low daily calorie intake levels.

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