'Ecological Catastrophe': Toxic Sludge Deluge in Hungary Kills 3

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by
MSNBC

'Ecological Catastrophe': Toxic Sludge Deluge in Hungary Kills 3

State of emergency declared after red wave sweeps through Hungarian towns

by
MSNBC and Agencies

The sludge, a waste product in aluminum production, contains heavy metals and is toxic if ingested. Many of the injured sustained burns as the sludge seeped through their clothes. Two of the injured were in life threatening condition. An elderly woman, a young man and a 3-year-old child were killed in the flooding. (Gyoergy Varga / EPA)

The Hungarian government
declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after a toxic sludge spill
killed at least three people, news agency MTI reported.

The state of emergency affected Veszprem, Gyor-Moson-Sopron and Vas
counties. Six people were missing on Tuesday and 120 injured in what
officials said was an ecological disaster.

The contaminated mud poured through Kolontar and two other villages
on Monday after bursting out of an open containment pond at the nearby
Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt plant, owned by MAL Zrt.

The sludge, a waste product in aluminum production, contains heavy
metals and is toxic if ingested. Many of the injured sustained burns as
the sludge seeped through their clothes. Two of the injured were in life
threatening condition. An elderly woman, a young man and a 3-year-old
child were killed in the flooding.

The chemical burns caused by the sludge could take days to reveal
themselves and what may seem like superficial injuries could later cause
damage to deeper tissue, Peter Jakabos, a doctor on duty at a hospital
in Gyor where several of the injured were taken, said on state
television.

Several hundred tons of plaster were being poured into the Marcal
river to bind the toxic sludge and prevent it from flowing on, the
National Disaster Management Directorate said.

So far, about 35.3 million cubic feet of sludge has leaked from the
reservoir and affected an estimated area of 15.4 square miles,
Environmental Affairs State Secretary Zoltan Illes told MTI.

Illes said the incident was an "ecological catastrophe" and it was
feared that the sludge could reach the Raba and Danube rivers.

Seven towns, including Kolontal, Devecser and Somlovasarhely, were
affected near the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant in the town of Ajka, 100 miles
southwest of Budapest, the capital.

'Burned him to the bone'

On Tuesday morning, the sludge in Tunde Erdelyi's house in Devecser
was still five feet high and rescue workers used an ax to cut through
her living room door to let the red liquid flow out.

"When I heard the rumble of the flood, all the time I had was to jump
out the window and run to higher ground," said a tearful Erdelyi, still
shocked by the events but grateful that she had been able to save a
family rabbit and that her cat was found wet and shivering in the attic.

Robert Kis, Erdelyi's husband, said his uncle had been taken to
Budapest, the capital, by helicopter after the sludge "burned him to the
bone."

The flood overturned Erdelyi's car and pushed it some 30 yards to the
back of the garden while her husband's van was lifted on to a fence.

"We still have some copper in the garage that we could sell to make a
living for a while," Kis said as he attempted to appraise the damage to
his house and belongings. Erdelyi, a seamstress, was hoping the flood
has spared the shop in town where she worked, her family's main source
of income.

The disaster agency said 390 residents had to be temporarily
relocated and 110 were rescued from the flooded towns, where
firefighters and soldiers were carrying out cleanup tasks.

Local environmentalists said that for years they had been calling the
government's attention to the risks of red sludge, which in a 2003
report they estimated at 30 million tons.

"Accumulated during decades ... red sludge is, by volume, the largest
amount of toxic waste in Hungary," the Clear Air Action Group said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

 

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