WWF fears environmental impact of toxic mud disaster in Hungary



Posted on 05 October 2010  | 
Fishermen on boat with collected dead fish from the River February 2000 - Cyanide pollution, Tisza River, Hungary.
Fishermen on boat with collected dead fish from the River February 2000 - Cyanide pollution, Tisza River, Hungary.
© WWF-Canon / Nigel DICKINSONEnlarge
Budapest, Hungary: WWF is fearful of the long term environmental impacts of the toxic mud disaster in Hungary, following the breach of the residue reservoir of the Ajkai Aluminia Refinery about 160 kilometres south west of Budapest.

Four died, six are still missing and 113 were injured as about one million cubic metres of red mud erupted over six villages at 12:25 Monday after the dam broke. The possibly slightly radioactive and highly corrosive material contains toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and chromium and has so far covered around 40 square kilometers.

A third degree alert to be called on the Marcal River, where, according to experts practically the total amount of fish stock of the upper river has already been destroyed. The toll of domestic animals suggests that wildlife would be similarly affected.

The mud has a pH level of up to 13 and acids are being poured into the Marcal to neutralize the alkaline stream before it reaches the Raba and the Danube. Red mud was this morning still flooding from the reserves covering Kolontár, Devecser and Somlóvásárhely. About 500-600 tonnes of cluster have been transported to the river to collect the slightly radioactive material.

“This is an unprecedented incident that effects deeply the ecosystem, wetlands and surface water bodies of the region as well as pointing out the fragility of our drinking water reserves,” said Gabor Figeczky, the Deputy CO of WWF-Hungary

According to Dr. Zoltan Illes, Hungary’s State Secretary of Environmental Protection, the country only in the beginning of eliminating the damages. First they have to collect the toxic mud, then neutralize it to reduce the harm before it reaches the Danube – predicted to be in about five days from now.

For Danube communities, the spill has reignited memories of the the Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania In January 2000, a retaining wall failed at the Aurul gold processing plant, releasing a wave of cyanide and heavy metals that would moved quickly from one river to the next through Romania, Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria, killing fish and other wildlife and poisoning drinking water.

"I hope that the Kolontar incident will not have the same degree of far reaching consequences as the Baia Mare spill," said Andreas Beckmann, Director, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme

“From the information I can gather, the escaped sludge would not normally be a direct threat to the Danube River, but unfortunately we are in the midst of the rainy season and it has rained especially hard in Hungary. This means that the sludge will spread faster and further and it is likely inevitable that some sludge will escape into the Danube.

"It’s hard for us to know how this will affect the environment. Heavy metals are known for their longevity, they don’t disappear overnight.

"This is a good occasion to remind ourselves that such depots – some currently in use, some abandoned – are common place in the Danube region. Some contain heavy metals, some radioactive elements. None of these are safe and the current incident has shown us this.”

Hungary has two other such refineries with an estimated 50 million cubic metres of similarly toxic red mud in highly sensitive areas close to rivers (like the one in Almasfuzito on the bank of the Danube), and karst water reservoires threatening wildlife, wetlands and safe drinking water.

For further details

Please contact Mr. Gabor Figeczky (deputy CO, WWF-Hungary) for further details at:
gabor.figeczky@wwf.hu
+36 30 678 53 98

Fishermen on boat with collected dead fish from the River February 2000 - Cyanide pollution, Tisza River, Hungary.
Fishermen on boat with collected dead fish from the River February 2000 - Cyanide pollution, Tisza River, Hungary.
© WWF-Canon / Nigel DICKINSON Enlarge

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