Death count rises as Hungary works on controlling toxic sludge

Posted Oct 8, 2010 by Stephanie Dearing
Two bodies were recovered from sludge Thursday, and officials reported the toxic sludge, released from an accidental breach of a reservoir Tuesday, has reached the Danube River.
An arial view of one of the villages innundated with toxic red sluged in Hungary.
An arial view of one of the villages innundated with toxic red sluged in Hungary.
Greenpeace Hungary
Emergency workers have been fighting for days to stop the flow of the red coloured toxic sludge that burst free from a reservoir containing millions of cubic meters of the stuff, left over from aluminum processing. Efforts to neutralize the sludge appear to be successful, but attempts to halt the flow of the sludge have failed, and the sludge has reached the Danube River reported Xpatloop.
Officials are downplaying the risk to downstream communities even as they acknowledge the sludge has completely killed all aquatic life in the Marcal River, the first waterway to be contaminated with the sludge. But even so, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has declared the spill as being under control, said the BBC.
World Wildlife Fund Hungary, however, said that while officials claim the reservoir leak has been halted, no one is allowed to fly over the reservoir. WWF Hungary's acting CEO, Gábor Figeczky said “We still don’t know what caused this accident and what was in the waste. And while we are assured the dam has stopped leaking, authorities have closed the airspace over the site to any but official and company flights.” There is some good news, however, for the disaster that many are now comparing to the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill. WWF Hungary said "... According to information solicited yesterday and today by WWF-Hungary from the State Representative for Environment Protection, acid dumping in around five locations has reduced alkalinity of waters and sludge from a caustic 13 to around nine in nearby areas.
Plume alkalinity is reported to be under 10 in a side arm of the Danube, near the entry point at Győr, compared too a usual near neutral 7.5."
WWF Hungary is pointing to other industrial tailings ponds in Hungary and other Danube nations, saying a major disaster is only a matter of time.
The company responsible for the failure of the dam, MAL Zrt, has announced it will set aside 10 million pounds in aid for victims of the disaster, which has now killed six people and injured up to one hundred others. The company is still lobbying for permission to resume operations at the Ajka plant, saying in a press release this would allow the company to put more funds towards the disaster. MAL also noted that one of the victims was a 78 year old former employee, and the company said it will cover the funeral costs, and is giving the family special compensation.
The company still claims it did nothing wrong. A criminal investigation into the spill is ongoing. The spill is being compared to the DeepWater Horizon oil spill, reported CTV.
AP reported Thursday that villagers affected by the spill were angry and were demanding compensation.
AP reported that it is now believed that seven people are dead as a result of the spill. Two bodies were recovered near Devecser. There is still one person missing.
According to Hungarian officials, the worst of the spill is over, although the clean-up will be ongoing for an undetermined period of time. But Greenpeace Hungary said they had independently tested samples for heavy metals, and in a press conference Friday, announced the results. Arsenic, said the group, was alarmingly high. CBC News added that the group also found high levels of mercury in sludge samples taken from one affected village, Kolontar.
The Sofia Echo reported Friday that "Hungary has activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism for urgent international assistance in the response to the pollution caused by the break of a sludge depository in the city of Ajka, the European Commission (EC) said.
The Hungarian authorities have identified an immediate need for three to five experts with strong field experience in handling toxic sludge, decontamination and mitigation of environmental damage, an EC statement said."