A failed resevoir at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar alumina plant in Hungary caused an angry flood of toxic red sludge to engulf several towns on Tuesday, killing at least four people and injuring over 100 others.
The sludge, a waste product in aluminum production, contains heavy metals and is toxic if ingested.
TAKE ACTION: Demand stricter policies on industrial waste in Europe!
According to the Hungarian Environmental Affairs State Secretary Zoltan Illes, about one million cubic metres of sludge (264,172,051 gallons) has leaked from the reservoir, affecting an estimated 40 square kilometres (15 square miles).
Six people that were caught up in the disaster are still missing, and the Hungarian government has since declared a state of emergency in three counties.
MAL Rt, the Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company that owns the plant initially insisted the sludge, a by-product of refining bauxite, was “non-hazardous”, according to European Union standards (FT.com).
This claim is hard to swallow after two women, a young man and a three-year-old child were killed in the floods, and scores of locals suffered burns and eye irritation from contact with the red waters.
The company, which already wants to resume production, also claimed in a statement that there was no way for them to know the resevoir was in danger of breaking. However local environmentalists say they have been warning authorities about the health risks of the red sludge for years (CBC).
As disaster crews and firefighters move through neighborhoods of evacuated houses, trying to clean up the sludge with pressure washers and bulldozers, the European Commission has become concerned for countries downriver from Hungary.
The sludge, which has already contaminated Hungary’s Marcal River, is only 45 miles away from the Danube; Europe’s second longest river and home to many wildlife species. If the toxic waste water enters the Danube, rivers and lakes in 12 European countries will be at risk.
Image: A resident rescues a cat from toxic sludge that flooded the village of Devecser, on October 5, 2010.
Image Credit: REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo (via National Post News).