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Red mud waste pond | International Rivers Network

Four people dead in Hungarian red mud disaster

Four people have been confirmed dead and three are missing as toxic red mud from a waste pond of an alumina plant flooded at least seven towns and villages in Western Hungary. Over a hundred people are in hospital.

Some 40 square kilometers of area have been flooded with some 700,000 cubic meters of toxic waste from aluminum production after the earth dam of a reservoir broke near the village of Kolontár, some 30 kilometers northwest of Lake Balaton. The flood of sludge - a mixture of water and mining waste containing heavy metals – on the streets of the nearby town of Devecser was two meters high. The flood swept cars from roads and damaged houses, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents, many of whom said there would never be able to return home. Bridges and a nearby railway line were also ruined and some 800 hectares of cultivated land affected.

A 35-year-old man drowned as the sludge avalanching through the village turned over his jeep, an old man died in his house flooded by the sudden sweep of red mud. The other two mortal victims of the disaster are two children, a boy of 3 and his 1-year-old sister whose bodies were found in their homes. Three people are considered as missing.

The disaster management authorities – with the involvement of the chemical protection unit of the Hungarian Army – are working hard in the settlements affected by the disaster. The sludge also has minor radioactive effect but its level is so low that it would not cause acute health damage according to the Hungarian National Public Health and Medical Officer Service. The government declared a state of emergency in Veszprém county where the spill occurred as well as in two neighboring countries where the sludge flood is heading. The fish population of nearby rivers is already affected and the authorities are working to neutralize the toxic content of the water with gypsum to prevent hazardous material from reaching the river Danube in northwestern Hungary.

The aluminum company MAL Co. Ltd. takes no responsibility for the disaster. The management claims they had done all the precautions according to the regulations. Zoltán Illés, the state secretary in charge of environmental issues in the government issued a decree to suspend the operation of the company until further notice. The competent authorities – including police – have begun investigation to establish who is responsible for what happened.

Sándor Laczkó

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