One year after the red mud disaster: WWF warns of more "ticking time bombs"
“Hungary has let its presidency of the European Union pass without taking any action to defuse further ticking time bombs in Central and Eastern Europe”, said Gabory Figeczky, CEO of WWF Hungary. WWF called on the European Commission to draw up an action plan to ensure the effective implementation of the EU Mining Waste Directive.
“The EU Directive, which was introduced in 2006, is in principle good, but must now be effectively implemented”, said Figeckzy. “All transition periods for implementation of the Directive will run out by the end of this year and East European countries have no more time to delay implementation. EU tax payers should not be made to pay for mistakes of mining companies and relevant authorities when catastrophes like that at Ajka happen”, said Andreas Beckmann of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.
Extent of the disaster still visible today
On the occasion of the anniversary of the Ajka disaster, WWF has published photos and video footage of the disaster area taken from the air. The photos and video footage show that the extent of the disaster is still evident today.
WWF calls attention to the fact that there is still no mandatory insurance system for similar toxic mining waste sites. There also is no adequate control system for similar dams and facilities in the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe. “One year after the catastrophe in Hungary and ten years after the accidents at Baia Mare and Baia Borsa in Romanai, we still do not have a clear idea how many toxic time bombs are still ticking in Eastern Europe”, warned Beckmann.
A part of the €470 million fine that the Hungarian government in mid September 2011 levied on the MAL Aluminum factory should be used not only to cover the costs related to the disaster and compensation to the victims of the red mud, but also to identify other time bombs still ticking in Hungary. While the Hungarian government promised to undertake a comprehensive study of the accident, it is still unclear when this will be published. “The Hungarian population has a right to know what risks it faces from mining and old neglected deposits of toxic waste”, Figeczky said.
WWF calls for an Action Plan to secure areas at risk not only in Hungary and other EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe, but also in other countries of the Danube-basin, like Croatia, Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine. The Action Plan should closely examine risks to people and nature from toxic waste dumps throughout the former-Communist countries of the region, including the dozens if not hundreds of toxic waste sites that have been inherited from the former regime.
Existing national legislation should be examined regarding possible gaps. Many of the sites in Central and Eastern Europe are no longer in use nor have any owner, and thus are not governed by the EU Mining Waste Directive. A clear legal framework is needed for the implementation of the EU Directive, and above all it must be clear who carries responsibility in the case of accidents and catastrophes.
The red mud disaster
On 4 October 2010 more than one million cubic meters of toxic red mud escaped from a broken reservoir at an aluminium plant at Ajka in western Hungary. The highly alkaline and toxic deluge flowed through the villages of Kolontár, Devecser and Somlóvásárhely and via the Torna, Marcal and Raba streams and rivers into the Danube. Ten people died, and 150 people were injured by the disaster. The accident destroyed a number of villages and poisoned Danube tributaries. The earth, rivers and plants are still contaminated with heavy metals from the red mud.