A layer of sludge 10 centimeters deep has built up in the area, as almost 33%% of the buildings have been damaged in the city of Devecser, roughly 150 kilometers southwest of Budapest. This sludge is highly toxic and deadly, containing a mixture of lead and other heavy metals, as one victim of the flood was “burned to the bone” and had to be flown by rescue helicopter to the hospital. Doctors said the injured are being closely monitored because of the chemical burns caused by the red mud could take days to emerge and what initially seemed like superficial injuries could later cause damage to deeper tissue.
The Hungarian government has called the Hungary toxic sludge flood leak an “environmental catastrophe.” The sludge broke through an earthen dam Monday night at the reservoir of the Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt alumina plant, owned by MAL Zrt, after days of heavy rain. Sound familiar, with the heavier rains we have been getting, I imagine we can expect more of these ‘spills’ to occur, even in the U.S.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the spill may have been caused by human error, there was no sign of it being from natural causes. He also stated there was no threat of radiation in the areas affected by the red mud deluge. The government of Hungary has temporarily suspended the production at the plant, and MAL Zrt was ordered to repair the damaged reservoir after the Environmental Affairs State Secretary Zoltan IIIes referred to the spill as an “ecological catastrophe”.
A state of emergency has been declared in three counties, in Veszprem, because it is the scene of the accident and another two whom are in the path of the oncoming sludge. Teams of workers in protective clothing hose down streets to disperse the slurry. The national disaster unit defined the sludge as “a byproduct of alumina production”, stating: “The thick, highly alkaline substance has a caustic effect on the skin. The sludge contains heavy metals, such as lead, and is slightly radioactive. Inhaling its dust can cause lung cancer.”
The sludge consists of cadium, cobalt and lead, and the processing chemicals used to process the Bauxite into aluminum. The caustic mixture can burn the skin over prolonged contact with the skin, and is difficult to store, as it is an environmental problem. The red mud is also classified as a technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive material, when the processing of raw materials exposes radioactive materials.
There are serious concerns that the Hungary toxic sludge from the leak could contaminate the Raba River, which is a tributary of the Danube River and flows into it. Sandor Toth, the Deputy Head of the Water Management Company for Western Hungary stated that the toxic sludge may reach the major European river in four to five days. The red mud has already contaminated the Torna Creek, which in turn flows into the Marcal rivulet, which then flows into the Raba, so concerns are high. They have been pouring tons of cement into the Marcel and hope that it will stop the toxic flow from reaching the Danube. The government is trying to prevent more serious environmental damages with this act, and also state that the drinking water has not yet been affected. Interior Minister Sandor Pinter also said that there was a “good chance” that the poisonous slime would not reach the Danube. Greenpeace itself warned of the consequences for the natural environment, implying the dangers to both the drinking water and vegetation. The organization has concerns that when the mud dries up, the wind can blow the dried mud particles up to 15 kilometers further, therefore they are sending in a team to take samples to investigate and document the full magnitude of the disaster.
Local environmentalists said the plant, which had been privatized several years ago, should have been modernized but that the company put profits first. They also point out that they have been trying to call the governments attention to the risks of the red sludge for years, pointing out a report which estimated the toxic waste levels at 30 million tons.
Robert Fidrich, of Friends of the Earth in Hungary, said: “Now we, the public, will have to pay the real bill. You can forget about cleaning up those villages … nobody will be able to live there for 10 years or more. It has affected the lives of hundreds of people.”
“Accumulated during decades … red sludge is, by volume, the largest amount of toxic waste in Hungary,” the Clear Air Action Group said, adding that producing one ton of alumina results in two tons of toxic waste.
MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company that owns the Ajka plant, said that according to European Union standards, the red sludge was not considered toxic waste. The company also denied that it should have taken more precautions to shore up the reservoir.
“According to the current evaluation, company management could not have noticed the signs of the natural catastrophe nor done anything to prevent it even while carefully respecting technological procedures,” MAL said in a statement.
This is the ongoing problem we are having, money or environment, and it is the struggle we will continue to have until we finally come to realize that money won’t be so important after we poison all our water supplies and land and kill ourselves off. We all have a part in this, as we invest in the stock market to make money, we invest in businesses that partake in unhealthy practices. This accident,the Hungary toxic sludge leak is by the way, a product of the bottom line. So we really need to re-evaluate how we do business in the future, and for the future, and not let Wall Street or other markets dictate and our pocket books dictate our policies. We really need to get our priorities rearranged I’m afraid, and come up with better solutions. There are many more of these accidents to come my friends, they are just waiting to happen. So how do you want to proceed, business as usual, or time to clean up our acts. Leave a comment on your thoughts!
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Map of Hungary: