State of emergency declared after toxic mud spill in Hungary

 

The village of Devecser devastated by the toxic sludge.

 

By Edoardo Zandonà

Hungarian government declared a state of emergency today after a massive sludge spill from an aluminia factory put in serious danger the lives of about 7000 people distributed in three different counties. Emergency workers are now trying to stop the toxic mud spread, as well as to find the six people who are still missing.

The leak started yesterday after the breaking of a dam in the industrial waste reservoir of the Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt alumina factory. So far, the spill already caused four deaths, while another 120 residing in the nearby villages were led to the hospital after being subjected to chemical burns. The flood also deeply damaged several buildings and facilities in the region, leading to the evacuation of 400 residents.

Hungarian Environment Minister Zoltan Illes described the event as “Hungary’s worst chemical accident”. He referred to it as an “ecological catastrophe”, and he stated it will need at least one year and tens of millions dollars to completely clean up the area from the 2cm deep layer of soil covering the region. Illes added that, if the leak would not be immediately recovered, the Raba and Danube rivers could be at risk of contamination as well.

According to what Gyorgy Bakondi, head of the National Disaster Unit, declared today, there are three major tasks to fulfil for the cleaning crews. The first one and the more important is to “close the burst in the dam by the afternoon”, and after that “cleaning off the red sludge from the walls of houses, and off streets”, and protecting the waters from contamination.

Police is still investigating on what could have been the real origin of the disaster. Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said the spill could have been caused by human error, and there was no sign of it being due to natural causes. MAL Zrt, the current owner of the factory, rejected any responsibility in the disaster, stating there had been no previous sign of the impending catastrophe, since the last inspection of the factory on Monday didn’t show anything suspicious.

The sludge is believed to have a caustic effect on the skin, due to its highly alkaline structure, and since the presence of heavy metals in it, it’s considered slightly radioactive and could cause lung cancer if inhaled. Greenpeace experts said the impact of the spill could be much worse than the cyanide spill which happened in Baia Mare, Romania, in 2000, contaminating the Tisza and Danube river with the toxic substance.