Hungary Declared A State Of Emergency In Three Counties In The Aftermath Of The Worst Chemical Accident In It’s History
On Monday, October 4, a toxic tsunami of at least a million cubic meters (264,172,052 gallons), crashed through a concrete retaining wall of a 40 square kilometer reservoir, at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar alumina refinery near the town of Ajka, 150 kilometers (93 miles), southwest of the capital of Budapest, Hungary.
The nightmarish tidal wave of poisonous red sludge slammed through the three villages of Kolontar, Devescser, and Somlovasarhely. Leaving in it’s wake death, toxic destruction and villages marinated in waste that when dry will be exponentially more toxic than the dust of 9/11. Killing at least four people; two children, ages 1 and 3, an elderly woman and a 35-year-old man whose SUV overturned in the sludge. Six people are still missing and more than 120 people were left injured. Better than 500 police officers and soldiers are on the scene, so are special detection teams to hunt for missing persons, as soldiers wearing chemical protection suits were trying to clean the sludge from the streets with high pressure water.
On first count, about 250 people had been evacuated from and can not return to their homes. As armed police patrolled some of the villages to keep looters at bay, it is unclear when the evacuated residents can return because the long term consequences of the spill is unknown.
The sludge is a waste product from refining bauxite to alumina, the material used to manufacture aluminum. Although it contains iron oxide which gives the mud the red color, the exact chemical composition of the sludge has not been revealed, but aluminum processing normally involves compounds that include cyanide, cadmium and chromium. However, Hungary’s national disaster unit says the mud contains heavy metals, such as lead, aluminum oxide, silicon dioxide, calcium dioxide, titanium oxide and oxygen-bonded sodium oxide and if breathed in as dust, the red mud can cause lung damage. People coming into contact with the sludge have suffered burns because the sludge has a high pH (alkali) content which has a caustic effect on the skin. And by the way, it is slightly radioactive. (Oh, ok, only slight radioactivity – Whew! – – NOT!)
Here’s a CNN video on the aftermath:
Speculation has heavy rain in the region in recent weeks may have caused the foundations of the concrete wall of the reservoir to subside, weakening and eventually causing a section to collapse but, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Reuters Wednesday that human error and not flooding was the likely cause of the spill.
Hungarian authorities poured tons of plaster and fertilizers into a heavily contaminated local river, the Marcal which feeds into the Danube, in an attempt to bind with the sludge, countering it’s alkalinity and stopping the pollution from advancing. The EU concerned that the ecological disaster could affect neighboring nations, urged Hungarian authorities to ensure the sludge did not reach the Danube river.
Oops, too late! On Thursday, October 7, as emergency officials worked to contain as much of the leak as possible, the red toxic sludge reached the Danube, Europe’s second largest river.
Zoltan Illes, Hungary’s Environmental Affairs State Secretary, described the flood as Hungary’s worst chemical accident and an “ecological catastrophe.”
A Hungarian government spokesman told the BBC that the clean up will cost tens of millions of dollars and will take at least a year to complete.
The aluminum factory has said it will pay for the victims’ funerals. – Awww! Well, that just makes everything all better, don’t it?
Tags: aluminum oxide, armed police, bauxite, budapest hungary, chemical accident, chemical composition, climate, concrete retaining wall, cubic meters, elderly woman, energy, environment, go green, green, heavy metals, looters, national disaster, pressure water, silicon dioxide, sludge, square kilometer, state of emergency, term consequences, three counties, water, wind