Toxic Industrial Spill Kills Four People, Injures 120 in Hungary

by | Oct 6, 2010

Hungary has declared a state of emergency in three counties one day after a sludge reservoir at an alumina plant sent toxic red sludge spilling through their villages, killing four people, and injuring 120, reports Reuters. Three people are reported missing.

Gyorgy Bakondi, head of the National Disaster Unit (NDU) told TV2 that they should close the burst in the dam by the afternoon and that crews are cleaning up the caustic red sludge, which is produced during bauxite refining, reports Reuters. They are also working to protect the waters.

The red sludge poured through three villages including Kolontar after a huge containment reservoir burst at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt plant, owned by MAL Zrt, reports Reuters. Four more villages also were impacted.

The sludge, which is a mixture of water and mining waste containing heavy metals, is considered hazardous, according to Hungary’s National Directorate General for Disaster Management (NDGDM), reports BBC. About 600,000-700,000 cubic meters (21m-24m cubic feet) of sludge spilled from the plant, about 160 km (100 miles) from the capital of Budapest, impacting about 40 sq km (15.4 sq miles).

Hungary says the spill will take about a year to clean up and cost tens of millions of dollars, reports BBC.

WWF reports that acids are being poured into the Marcal River to neutralize the alkaline stream before it reaches the Raba and the Danube Rivers, and about 500-600 tonnes of cluster have been transported to the river to collect the slightly radioactive material.

WWF also reports that nearly the total amount of fish stock of the upper Marcal River has been destroyed, and red sludge was still flooding this morning from the reserves covering the villages of Kolontár, Devecser and Somlóvásárhely.

The government has suspended production at the MAL Zrt plant and police are investigating what may have caused the disaster, report Reuters.

“This spill underscores fundamental safety concerns related to producing and disposing of enormous quantities of contaminated wastes from mines and metals processing facilities. Mines and mining related industries are the largest toxic polluter in the United States according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These types of wastes are typically tainted with heavy metals and chemicals like cyanide and arsenic – and are either stored on land in enormous tailings reservoirs, as was the case in Hungary, or dumped directly into natural water bodies, which is the case in many parts of Southeast Asia and is under consideration at mines in Alaska and Canada,” said Payal Sampat, international campaign director of EARTHWORKS, in a statement.

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