Hungary toxic sludge spill reaches Danube (Update)

Oct 08, 2010 by Geza Molnar
Hungarian civic workers clean the sludge-covered streets of Kolontar. Hungary's toxic sludge spill has reached the Danube river, threatening to contaminate the waterway's ecosystem. The spill has already killed four people.

The company at the centre of Hungary's toxic sludge leak that killed four people defended itself Friday, as fears increased over the threat to marine life in Europe's second longest river.

In a statement on its website, MAL Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company said that it had released aid of 30 million HUF, (110,000 euros, 150,000 dollars) to local authorities to help deal with the disaster.

According to the mayor of one of the villages worst hit by the sludge, the sum would go to payments of 360 euros (504 dollars) to each family affected by the leak.

In its statement, the company also offered its condolences to the relatives of the four people who had lost their lives and said it would cover their funeral expenses.

MAL has come under fierce criticism, with officials suggesting too much of the caustic red sludge was contained in the reservoir, but the company insists it has done nothing wrong.

It said it was devoting "all its energies and efforts" to alleviating the effects of the spill.

The Open Society Foundation set up by financier George Soros announced Thursday it was donating a million dollars to the victims of the spill.

Officials in Hungary and beyond, downriver of the disaster, followed the progress of the blood-red sludge with increasing concern.

The pollution reached the main branch of the Danube at around midday (1000 GMT) Thursday, after wiping out all life in the smaller Marcal tributary, said Tibor Dobson, the regional chief of Hungary's disaster relief services.

"I can confirm that we have seen sporadic losses of fish in the main branch of the Danube," Dobson said.

"The fish have been sighted at the confluence of the Raba with the Danube," where water samples had shown a pH value of 9.1, he said.

"In order to save the river's ecosystem, the pH level must be brought down below 8," Dobson said.

Hungarian volunteers remove dead fish from the Marcal river near the vilage of Gyirmot. Dead fish floated in the Danube Thursday after a toxic sludge spill that killed four people in Hungary reached Europe's second longest river, where it threatens to decimate marine life, officials said.

Water alkalinity is a measure of river contamination and on a scale of 1-14, pH values of 1-6 are acid, between 6 and 8 are neutral, and readings of 8-14 are alkaline.

Dobson said that pH values of 9.6 had been measured in the Raba, a tributary of the Danube, up from earlier in the day; and 9.4 in the Danube's Mosoni branch.

In the village of Gyirmot, where the Marcal flows into the Raba, volunteers collected bucketfuls of dead fish from the stinking water.

The toxic spill poured from a reservoir at an aluminium plant in Ajka, 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Budapest, which burst Monday, sending 1.1 million cubic metres (38.8 million cubic feet) of red sludge into surrounding villages.

Four people died in one of the villages, Kolontar, from where the tiny Torna stream flows into the Marcal, a tributary of the Raba, which in turn flows into the Danube.

The Danube runs from Hungary through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine to the Black Sea.

Serbia, Croatia and Romania said they were stepping up monitoring of the river given the risk of drinking water contamination in towns along the river.

Adrian Draghici, head of the water management authority in Mehedinti county, 400 kilometres west of Bucharest, said the pollution could reach Romania Saturday.

Dead fish are stored in a plastic container on the banks of the Marcal river near Gyirmot. Dead fish floated in the Danube Thursday after a toxic sludge spill that killed four people in Hungary reached Europe's second longest river, where it threatens to decimate marine life, officials said.

But a Hungarian water official played down the long-term impact of the pollution, saying it would only affect a limited part of the Danube.

"Alkaline levels show that the pollution will probably not have an effect on the Danube's ecosystem below Komarom," Emil Janak, the director of the regional water authority, was quoted as saying by MTI news agency.

The city of Komarom is 20 kilometres downstream of the point where the Raba flows into the Danube, and 80 kilometres upsteam of Budapest.

Environmentalists expressed alarm about the possible long-term effects of the disaster.

"The heavy metals are the danger in the long run," Gabor Figeczky, acting head of nature protection body the WWF in Hungary, told AFP.

The Marcal's ecosystem could take between three and five years to recover, he added.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban earlier visited Kolontar, and said it may have to rebuilt elsewhere because the ground was uninhabitable.

He insisted Hungary did not need financial help, but would welcome expertise to help clean up the spill.

In Brussels, the European Commission said Hungary had requested the dispatch of three to five experts in cleaning up toxic spills under the bloc's joint civil protection assistance measures.

Explore further: 60% of China underground water polluted: report

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Toxic mud spill kills four in Hungary

Oct 05, 2010

Hungary declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after a toxic mud spill killed four people and injured 120 in what officials described as Hungary's worst-ever chemical accident.

Scientists say heavy metal in sludge not dangerous

Oct 07, 2010

(AP) -- The toxic red sludge that burst out of a Hungarian factory's reservoir reached the mighty Danube on Thursday after wreaking havoc on smaller rivers and creeks, and downstream nations rushed to test ...

Crews struggle to clear toxic Hungary sludge flood

Oct 06, 2010

(AP) -- There was no stopping the avalanche of toxic red sludge when it rammed into Kati Holtzer's home: It smashed through the main door and trapped the woman and her 3-year-old boy in a churning sea of ...

EU to Hungary: Don't let toxic sludge hit Danube

Oct 06, 2010

(AP) -- Hungary opened a criminal probe into the toxic sludge flood Wednesday and the European Union urged emergency authorities to do everything they can to keep the contaminated slurry from reaching the D ...

Toxic spill from China copper mine spreads

Jul 20, 2010

A toxic pollution spill from a mine operated by China's top gold producer Zijin Mining Group has spread to a second province, threatening the fishing industry there, state media said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

60% of China underground water polluted: report

1 hour ago

Sixty percent of underground water in China which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country's grave environmental problems.

Florida is 'Ground Zero' for sea level rise

14 hours ago

Warm sunshine and sandy beaches make south Florida and its crown city, Miami, a haven for tourists, but the area is increasingly endangered by sea level rise, experts said Tuesday.

UV-radiation data to help ecological research

20 hours ago

Many research projects study the effects of temperature and precipitation on the global distribution of plant and animal species. However, an important component of climate research, the UV-B radiation, is ...

Massive climate change mapping and modeling project

21 hours ago

What might a snapshot of the earth look like in 2050? How much land will be occupied by forest? How much will produce food? And how much area will be used to supply biofuels for alternative energy? How hot ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ormondotvos
not rated yet Oct 07, 2010
One more data point for the hypothesis that corporations aren't capable of moral and forward-looking thought or planning. More regulation would have prevented this. The pictures showing the extent of the holding ponds surpass belief!
Truth
not rated yet Oct 10, 2010
Good lord, ormondotvos, if our own American corporations rank the public's welfare at the bottom of their profit list, you can just imagine how low it is on a foreign company's list, given that the prime bribe recepients are their own governments. Hungarian corporation values are a typical reflection of all the world's corporations, bar none.

More news stories

60% of China underground water polluted: report

Sixty percent of underground water in China which is officially monitored is too polluted to drink directly, state media have reported, underlining the country's grave environmental problems.

Florida is 'Ground Zero' for sea level rise

Warm sunshine and sandy beaches make south Florida and its crown city, Miami, a haven for tourists, but the area is increasingly endangered by sea level rise, experts said Tuesday.

NASA gets two last looks at Tropical Cyclone Jack

Tropical Cyclone Jack lost its credentials today, April 22, as it no longer qualified as a tropical cyclone. However, before it weakened, NASA's TRMM satellite took a "second look" at the storm yesterday.

In the 'slime jungle' height matters

(Phys.org) —In communities of microbes, akin to 'slime jungles', cells evolve not just to grow faster than their rivals but also to push themselves to the surface of colonies where they gain the best access ...

Robot scouts rooms people can't enter

(Phys.org) —Firefighters, police officers and military personnel are often required to enter rooms with little information about what dangers might lie behind the door. A group of engineering students at ...

New alfalfa variety resists ravenous local pest

(Phys.org) —Cornell plant breeders have released a new alfalfa variety with some resistance against the alfalfa snout beetle, which has ravaged alfalfa fields in nine northern New York counties and across ...