Toxic mud effects likely to be long term in Hungary

Posted on October, 06 2010

As toxic mud polluted waters flow towards the Danuber from Monday’s breach of an alumina plant residue dam, WWF-Hungary has warned the environmental impacts could be longer lasting than the 2000 cyanide spill into the Danube basin.
Kolontar, Hungary: As toxic mud polluted waters flow towards the Danuber from Monday’s breach of an alumina plant residue dam, WWF-Hungary has warned the environmental impacts could be longer lasting than the 2000 cyanide spill into the Danube basin.

“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 from Kolontar – one of six villages flooded by around one million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of red mud and highly alkaline water when the corner-walls of the toxic waste reservoir at the Ajka Aluminia Company broke through.

“The red sludge is going down the riverbed of Torna stream. The volume is considerable because it came through at about two meters high, this is known because all the houses and trees are red up to two meters.

“It came with a high pressure because trees and fences have been knocked out. The sludge is going down. I have come from a house in which the red sludge is waist high. Everybody is wearing masks and gloves as they are shoveling the red sludge. The air is poisoned as well. It is very irritating to breath in.”

The red stain on Hungary’s landscape covers about 40 square kilometers (16 square-miles), with Figeczky noting that “Locals constantly collect the surviving animals, the red, opalescent eyed pets are being carried around in barrows, because their injuries unable them to move. The case is just as bad with the livestock too.

“The damage in the wildlife can not even be appraised – certainly hunters are collecting dead and injured animals including deers, foxes, rabbits and wild boars”

It is certain that the contaminated water would pass through the Danube with a smaller concentration, large and interconnected parts of Europe’s Natura 2000 protected areas.

“This puts the conservation related damages very substantial - even at international scale,” said Figeczky
“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 as the heavy metals of the red mud accumulate in their bodies, however there is still no information about the concentration of heavy metals in the red mud of this reservoir.”

The situation is being actively compared to that of 2000, after cyanide contaminated gold-processing waste spilled from a Romanian waste dam into the Tisza River, a Danube tributaries flowing through the other side of Hungary.

“Ten years ago the cyanide reached Tisza in two waves, first the contaminated water broke out from the Baia Mare water basin, then the sludge full with cyanide and heavy metals flooded into the river,” said Figeczky .

The cyanide and the heavy metal have different types of effects. The cyanide immediately destroys the animals, and flows away with the flood.
At the same time the heavy metals soak into the ground and are taken up by the plants and this has a longer-term effect on the environment.
The heavy metal could remain in the ground for decades, and can cause serious effects, like growing disorders. Because of these negative attributes the heavy metal content of this red mud poison is a key issue.

In 2000 the cyanide disaster on the river Tisza, destroyed all of the aquatic animals except the vertebrates.

The river Marcal’s dead fish stock can forecast that likely the most of the aquatic animals will die due to the pollution. Similarly to the cyanide pollution these animals can return, and survivors can recolonise areas. But the experts cannot forecast how much time it will take.

While speculation mounts on the natural damage, the human tragedy continues. Four died, six remain missing, more than one hundred were injured and hundreds were forced from their homes.

In the early afternoon people were able to enter the scene of the slurry’s outburst.

Aid packages arrive constantly. Locals mostly need rubber boots, clothes, diapers, citric and vinegar acid but any other type of material donation can not be used in this phase.

Locals try to save their belongings but many are bereft of hope. Most of them say they never want to move back to their previous homes.

For further details

Please contact Mr. Gabor Figeczky (acting CEO, WWF-Hungary) for further details at:
+36 30 678 53 98

WWF Hungary mud slide mudslide toxic
About one million cubic metres of red toxic mud erupted over six villages after a mining waste dam burst at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar alumina plant in Hungary. The highly corrosive sludge contains heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and chromium.
© WWF Hungary