Company Head Arrested for Negligence in Hungary Toxic Sludge Disaster
Would he have been arrested in the US?
Last week in Hungary, toxic sludge burst out of its containment reservoir and into three nearby villages, killing 8 people and forcing hundreds to abandon their homes. The red mud was a byproduct of the aluminum-making process employed by MAL Zrt, the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company. The head of the company has just been arrested for criminal negligence, and faces 10 years in prison if convicted. The state temporarily wrested control of the company and installed a commissioner. Which is interesting, and stands in stark contrast to the responses to recent environmental disasters in the US -- what do you think would have happened if the disaster had happened here?After all, we've seen two of the most tragic environmental catastrophes in US history unfold this year. First, 23 miners were killed in an explosion at a mine owned by Massey Energy. And yes, some arrests were made -- of people protesting further coal mining. Then, an explosion on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 men and caused immense havoc on the environment around the Gulf of Mexico. But again, the only people arrested or threatened with arrest in conjunction with the event were Greenpeace protesters and some journalists attempting to document the scene.
Meanwhile, the heads of both companies were not charged for any wrongdoing. And of course, the federal government didn't take over either company -- far from it. Instead, it closely worked with BP to organize the disaster response. While there are now criminal investigations underway in both instances, it is striking to see how differently another nation treats those whose business practices inflict irreparable damage onto the lives of the public.
Here, let's do a little exercise. Read the description of the disaster in Hungary, via the NY Times:
A week ago, nearly 200 million gallons of toxic red mud -- a byproduct of the conversion of bauxite to alumina, for aluminum -- poured out of a reservoir after part of its containing wall collapsed, killing eight people and injuring hundreds more. Hundreds of people have been forced from their homes, and tens of millions of dollars in private property have been destroyed.Does the man ultimately responsible for this event -- indeed, the man who earns payment on grounds that he is ultimately responsible for the endeavors of his company, and therefore, such events -- deserve to face justice for negligence?
How about this:
An agonizing four-day wait came to a tragic end early Saturday morning when rescue workers failed to find any survivors in an underground mine after a huge explosion earlier this week. The news at the Upper Big Branch mine about 30 miles south of Charleston brought the death toll to 29 in the country's worst mine disaster in four decades.Should the man ultimately responsible for this accident, CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, be criminally responsible? His company ignored hundreds of safety violations handed down by regulators, and help others up in court. He hasn't even been removed from his position as CEO.
Or what about BP -- a disaster so thoroughly covered by the media that it needs no summation here. CEO Tony Hayward eventually lost his job, due largely to his poor public handling of the disaster but no one has been held responsible criminally. Didn't somebody break the law by allowing negligent drilling practices to take the lives of 11 men, destroy untold private property, and soil myriad ecosystems around the Gulf? The difference between our two nations handling of such disasters certainly illuminates how sympathetic the US is to corporate interests. Those killed in the US disasters were likely under contracts which prevented their families from suing in the event of their deaths, while those killed in Hungary were merely bystanders, but nonetheless -- corporations should never have the right to be dangerously negligent.
More on Environmental Disasters
Massey CEO Don Blankenship's Long History of Ignoring Mining Regulations
Why the BP Spill Hasn't Invigorated Environmentalism
The 6 Crucial Errors that Led to the Deepwater Horizon Explosion