Hungary Suffering Toxic Chemical Spill

On Monday in Hungary a reservoir containing waste from an alumina refining plant in Ajka burst spilling 35.3 million cubic feet of across an area that is 15.4 square miles. Ajka is about 160 kilometres southwest of the national capital of Budapest. The flood of sludge is a mix of water and mining waste, it has already affected thousands of people in at least seven towns.

Hungary has declared a state of emergency in at least three counties due to the flood.

Emergency crews in Hungary are trying to contain the damage after a flood of caustic red sludge poured through several towns, leaving four dead, six missing and more than 100 people injured.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said today that the spill could have been caused by a human error, because there were no signs of natural causes, according to Reuters. But the company that owns the aluminum plant, MAL Zrt., is already trying to wash their hands of responsibility by issuing the following statement.

“According to the current evaluation, company management could not have noticed the signs of the natural catastrophe nor done anything to prevent it even while carefully respecting technological procedures…. the red mud is not considered toxic waste by European standards.”

This statement about “toxic waste standards” is an absolute insult to those affected and the intelligence of the people of Hungary. “Not considered toxic” is absolute refuted by local environmentalists and the people suffering from chemical burns as a result. The Clean Air Action Group says that “red sludge is, by volume, the largest amount of toxic waste in Hungary.”

Hungary’s national disasters unit defined the red mud on its website as:

“A by-product of alumina production… The thick, highly alkaline substance has a caustic effect on the skin. The sludge contains heavy metals, such as lead, and is slightly radioactive. Inhaling its dust can cause lung cancer.”

This shows the profit protecting lie-mechanism already in place to minimize the amount of financial responsibility MAL Zrt. will be willing to accept.

Anna Nagy, a government spokesperson, told Al Jazeera said an investigation was under way to “find the person criminally responsible… It is obviously not a natural catastrophe – it was caused by human mistake.”

The country’s state secretary said there was a suspicion that the company which owns the reservoir had stored more red sludge than was allowed, or that containers had not been properly fitted.

Greenpeace also said satellite imagery taken a day before the disaster showed “catastrophic cracks in the tank’s walls”.

The European Union was concerned Wednesday that the toxic red sludge could turn into an ecological disaster for other European nations.

EU spokesman Joe Hennon said the EU stood ready to help if the disaster took on bigger proportions or if Hungarian authorities requested assistance.

With the nearby Danube River flowing through Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova before spilling into the Black Sea, there is the potential for widespread serious environmental damage, he said.

This disaster could easily poison the water supply for Europe for possibly decades affecting several nations. Why isn’t the mainstream media pointing this out? They claim the spill will be cleaned up in 30 days.

It is valuable to think through, specifically and in detail, how something like this can happen. How was it allowed? What kind of short-term obsession with profit and things dominated the decisions? Who thought about the villagers and their lives–or didn’t think about them at all? What were the years of planning and construction like? What are the structures of government and decision making? What kind of training and oversight allowed that small army of specialists and engineers to build that dam and release those chemicals into that man-made lake? What is defines culture of normalcy, morality and constraint?

Because once we have made these lists of conditions, decisions, motivations, and structures — we have a list of things that need urgent and radical change.