photo: AP/Bela Szandelszky
Four people are dead, 120 injured and six missing in Hungary as torrents of red toxic sludge, the byproduct of bauxite refining for aluminum, burst from a containment pond and poured through six villages in three counties. A state of emergency has been declared. Check out the photos and more details below:40 Square Kilometers Coated by Red Mud
According to reports in Reuters, The Guardian, and BBC News, over 700,000 cubic meters (24 million cubic feet) of sludge leaked yesterday from a reservoir at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt alumina plant in the town of Ajka, located about 160 kilometer south-west of Budapest. In total, an area of 40 square kilometers (15.4 square miles) has been affected.
The sludge contains heavy metals, including lead, is slightly radioactive, and toxic if ingested; inhaling the dust can cause lung cancer. People exposed to it suffered burns as it soaked their clothing, with one report of a man being burned to the bone. In addition cars were swept from the roads, with bridges and houses damaged.
Top to bottom --The burst containment reservoir, photo: AP/MTI, Gyoergy Varga; Workers in protective clothing wade through the sludge, photo: AP/MTI, Lajos Nagy; AP/Bela Szandelszky; Crops coated with red toxic sludge, photo: AP/Bela Szandelszky; AP/Bela Szandelszky
Highly Alkaline Sludge Could Get Into Danube If Not Contained
The mud has a pH level of up to 13 and acids are being poured into the Marcal [River] to neutralize the alkaline stream before it reaches the Raba and Danube. Red mud was this morning still flooding from the reserves covering Kolontár, Devecser and Somlóvásárhely.
Andreas Beckmann, Director of WWF's Danube-Carpathian program commented, "From the information I can gather, the escaped sludge would not normally be a direct threat to the Danube River, but unfortunately we are in the midst of the rainy season and it has rained particularly hard in Hungary. This means that the sludge will spread faster and further and it is likely inevitable that some sludge will escape into the Danube. It's hard for us to know how this will effect the environment. Heavy metals are known for their longevity, they don't disappear overnight."
Estimates of Hungary's total red sludge, the largest source of toxic waste in the nation by volume, are placed at 30 million tons.
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