November 20, 2017

Toxic sludge claims lives in Hungary

Toxic soup - Not the kind of photo we will find in the tourist brochures.

Emergency services in Hungary are trying to contain a torrent of toxic red sludge flowing into major waterways, including the River Danube.

The chemical waste burst from a reservoir at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar alumina plant and swept through surounding villages, killing four people with six missing and 120 injured. The plant is located 160km from the capital, Budapest.

In the town of Devecser, the torrent was 2m deep and swept cars from roads and damaged bridges and houses, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

The sludge – a mixture of water and mining waste containing heavy metals – is considered hazardous according to Hungary’s National Directorate General for Disaster Management (NDGDM). Newswarped thinks that this is stating the obvious.

While the cause of the deaths has not been established officially, it is believed the victims probably drowned. With 600,000-700,000 cubic metres of sludge on the lose that is highly likely.

Nearly 500 police officers and soldiers, including six emergency detection teams, have been deployed.

Plaster has been poured into the Marcal river in a bid to bind the sludge and stop further flooding.

MAL Rt, the Hungarian company which owns the plant went in to ‘spin doctor’ mode and said that by EU standards the sludge had not been considered hazardous. So dozens of people suffering from serious chemical burns is not “considered hazardous?”

They went on to say “There had been no sign of the impending disaster and the last examination of the reservoir pond on Monday had shown nothing untoward.” They said they believed the company management “could not have noticed the signs of the natural catastrophe nor done anything to prevent it even while carefully respecting technological procedures”.

It is comforting to know that even while MAL Rt’s torrent of “non-hazardous” sludge is working its way into waterways, that they can rapidly hold a inquiry and conclude that they are not to blame. This must be some kind of speed record for an inquiry into a man-made ecological disaster.

Zoltan Illes, state secretary for the environment ministry (cool name ‘Zoltan’ sounds like the bad guy from a Star Trek movie), described the flood as the worst chemical accident in Hungary’s history when he visited Kolontar on Tuesday.

Alumina, a synthetically produced aluminium oxide, is a white or nearly colourless crystalline substance that is used as a starting material for the smelting of aluminium metal.