Thursday, October 7, 2010

Newsy: Toxic Tsunami: Red Sludge Causes Chaos in Hungary

A dam at an aluminum plant in Hungary broke - sending 35 million cubic feet of toxic sludge rushing through nearby towns. The waste destroyed homes, and killed at least 4 people.

“It’s being called a toxic tsunami. A wave of noxious red sludge poured from a burst damn at a metal processing plant; flooding towns, engulfing cars and houses, sending residents running for their lives.” (ABC)

Western Hungary is the latest victim – of a major ecological disaster. An aluminum plant is responsible, and now officials and media outlets debate how toxic is it?

We are following coverage from ABC, NBC, BBC, The New York Times, and France 24.

First to NBC News who reports on the immediate – and potential long-term effects of the disaster: “Some 35 million cubic feet came pouring through their villages, killing at least 4 people and injuring more than 120, many with skin burns and eye damage. ...The red muck which contains lead and is slightly radioactive which can cause lung cancer if inhaled…”

Hungary’s Prime Minister declared a state of emergency and is warning people to keep calm. But the BBC explains how the government and the people affected are seeking answers: “There are already demands from local people and the top levels of government for an explanation from the company responsible for the containment damn which collapsed. The firm had a contingency plan for only 200-300,000 cubic meters of waste, we already know here we’ve faced 700,000-800,000 cubic meters. Our question is how it could happen that a lower number have been calculated in the official plans.”

Some officials are saying the red mud is not as dangerous as the media is portraying. The New York Times quotes an official and the plant’s owner, both of whom say the mud is not considered a “Hazardous Waste”: “The final material contains trace amounts of nearly every element found in the earth’s crust, but the United States Environmental Protection Agency does not consider red mud a toxic or carcinogenic substance … The plant’s owner issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that ‘the red sludge waste is not considered hazardous waste’ according to European Union standards.”

France 24 and the BBC report on one of the concerns for clean-up crews - containing the spill and not allowing it to reach rivers and streams: “But authorities are worried the sludge could reach the Danube – only 60 kilometers away. ... Large quantities of clay have been dumped into the river to try to bind the heavy metals before they reach the Danube further north.”

Hungary says it is the worst man-made disaster in the country’s history – and say that clean-up could take a year or longer.

Writer: Charles McKeague

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