Hungary toxic red sludge flood

© WWF Hungary © WWF Hungary © WWF Hungary © WWF Hungary © WWF Hungary © WWF Hungary © WWF Hungary © Interspect


About one million cubic metres of red toxic mud erupted over six Hungarian villages on 4 October 2010, after a dam of mining waste burst in the Ajkai Timfoldgyar alumina plant in Ajka – 160 km from Budapest, the capital.

The sludge is a highly corrosive material containing toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and chromium.

Human and environmental tragedy

The mining waste has covered over 40 km2, killing at least 4 people and injuring more then 120. In total 7,000 were directly affected by the poisonous flash flood. 

“Currently it is impossible to do any sort of estimate of the magnitude of the damage done to nature,” said Gábor Figeczky, Acting CEO of WWF-Hungary.

“We expect further damages to fauna and flora, as the materials used in rescue operations and to neutralise alkaline are toxic as well. Some animals and plants die instantly, some will face the consequences of serious poisoning in the longer term. However there is still no clear information about the concentration of heavy metals in the red mud of this reservoir.”

The toxic mud can be dispersed in streams and rivers, threatening the Danube river and it's tributaries.

It also has the potential to soak into the ground and be absorbed by plants. This has a devastating longer-term effect on the environment and people, since it may cause serious health problems, such as growing disorders.

Avoidable disaster

Aerial photographs, taken by a team from Interspect on June 2010, show clear damage on the wall of the Kolontar sludge reservoir just 3 months before they breached, killing seven, covering 40 sq km with toxic red sludge and sending a plume of caustic pollution down rivers into the Danube.

Satellite imagery from Google*, dated Oct. 2008, also seems to indicate points of leakage and dumped material along the edges of the reservoir - which could have been attempts to seal off leaks.

View Larger Map

“This points to neglect and a failure of regulation as a prime contributing factor to this disaster” said Gábor Figeczky, the Acting Director of WWF-Hungary.

WWF-Hungary urged a fast investigation of remaining reservoirs in the area and others around Hungary, along with an urgent aerial mapping of Hungary’s Danube banks.

* Special thanks to WWF supporters Istvan, Roman & Jouni for Google maps research
 / ©: Interspect
Interspect aerial survey shot of Kolontar sludge reservoir, June 2010. Detail shows damaged and leaking wall more than three months before disaster
© Interspect

Did you know?

    • Gyorgy Bakos, a county disaster-control spokesman, said about 600,000-700,000 cubic metres of the poisonous sludge had spilled from the reservoir.
    • The chemical infused in the mud was alumina, used in the smelting of aluminium, and was highly caustic according to Hungarian news outlet
    • Hungary says it will cost tens of millions of dollars and take at least a year to clean up the damage caused by a spill of industrial toxic red sludge.

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