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All water life in Hungary's toxic river is dead: official

Impact of toxic spill on Danube limited: Hungarian official
Budapest (AFP) Oct 7, 2010 - The toxic sludge that poisoned waterways in western Hungary will have a limited impact on the country's main river, the Danube, an official said on Thursday. "Alkaline levels show that the pollution will probably not have an effect on the Danube's ecosystem below Komarom," Emil Janak, the director of the regional water authority, was quoted as saying by MTI news agency. The city of Komarom is 20 kilometres (12 miles) downstream of the area where the toxic sludge is entering the Danube. The city is 80 km upstream from capital Budapest.

The water in the Danube had a pH value 8.4 at 1600GMT, down from pH 9.1 two hours earlier, and a level of pH 8.1 was expected when the the slick reached Komarom, said Janak. The river normally has a pH value of 8. Water alkalinity is a measure of river contamination and on a scale of 1-14, pH values of 1-6 are acid, between 6 and 8 are neutral, and readings of 8-14 are alkaline. "The fish are edible and the waters are quite drinkable," Janak said. Dead fish have been sighted in the Danube, Europe's second longest river, near the confluence of the Raba river, one of the worst-hit tributaries.
by Staff Writers
Budapest (AFP) Oct 7, 2010
The entire ecosystem of a small river in Hungary which is situated in the area affected by a deadly toxic mud spill, has been destroyed, a disaster relief chief said Thursday.

"The entire ecosystem of the Marcal river has been destroyed, because the very high alkaline levels have killed everything," Tibor Dobson, head of the regional disaster relief services, told the Hungarian news agency MTI.

"All the fish are dead and we haven't been able to save the vegetation either," he said.

"We've tried to lower the alkaline levels at several points on the Marcal with acid and gypsum. But it's been in vain," he said, saying the aim was to bring the alkaline levels below a pH level of 9 in the Raba and Danube rivers so as to save their ecosystems.

On a scale of 1-14, pH values of 1-6 are acid, between 6 and 8 are neutral, and readings of 8-14 are alkaline.

The pollution comes from a toxic mud spill that occurred on Monday in Ajka, 165 kilometres (100 miles) west of Budapest, when the containing walls of a residue reservoir at an alumina plant burst, sending 1.1 million cubic metres (38.8 million cubic feet) of toxic red sludge into surrounding villages.

Four people died in one of the villages, Kolontar, from where the tiny Torna stream flows into the Marcal.

The Marcal is a tributary to the Raba, which in turn flows into the Danube, Europe's second longest river.

The pollution reached the main branch of the Danube at midday (1000 GMT). But so far, there have been no sightings of dead fish in either the Raba or the Danube.

earlier related report
Stench of dead fish hangs over Hungary's Marcal river
Gyirmot, Hungary (AFP) Oct 7, 2010 - The stench of rotting fish mixes with an acidic smell like vinegar in the village of Gyirmot in western Hungary Thursday, where the contaminated Marcal river flows into the larger Raba.

Volunteers are collecting bucketfuls of dead fish which have been washed down the Marcal, where all life has been completely wiped out by a massive spill of toxic, blood-red sludge from an aluminium plant at Ajka, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.

One of the volunteers, a 69-year-old angler named Jeno Steigler, said the dead fish started arriving on Wednesday evening. So far, it appears to be mainly the smaller species of fish that are coming to the surface, he said.

"The larger ones, the carp and the pike, are probably taking longer to die and will surface further downstream," Steigler added gloomily.

Occasionally, a man arrives in his boat with tens of kilos of fish which other men on land tip into a huge metal container where nearly 600 kilos are already rotting.

The volunteers have chosen Gyrimot in an attempt to prevent the Marcal's contaminated fish from getting into the Raba river, which is a tributary of the mighty Danube that winds from Hungary through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine before reaching the Black Sea.

But pollution from the toxic sludge has already found its way into Europe's second longest river, according to water samples taken by authorities Thursday, showing elevated levels of alkaline. And the first dead fish have been spotted in the Danube's waters.

The toxic spill -- which poured from a burst reservoir at an aluminium plant in Ajka, 160 kilometres west of Budapest on Monday -- has already killed off all life in the Marcal, disaster relief officials announced earlier.

The volunteers sit in boats in the middle of the Marcal, with two paddling to keep the vessels steady while a third tries to scoop out the fish corpses with a net.

Alkaline levels -- a measure of contamination -- remain very high, with pH values of 10.6, enough to kill off all aquatic life.

Gabor Figeczky, acting head of nature protection body WWF in Hungary, suggested it could take between three and five years for life to return to the Marcal.

In the water, the caustic sludge has lost its blood-red colour, turning more to beer-bottle brown as a result of the acetic acid thrown into the river to lower the alkaline levels.

The water surface is also covered in a slimy film of grey bubbles from the gypsum thrown into the water for the same reason.

The volunteers stop working at about midday (1000 GMT) as no more dead fish come into sight.

"There we have it. There's nothing more. The fish are all dead. It's only water," sighs one man before heading desultorily home.

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Danube water quality controls boosted after Hungary spill
Bucharest (AFP) Oct 6, 2010
Countries bordering the Danube reinforced water quality controls after a toxic mud spill in Hungary raised fears that pollution could reach the second longest river in Europe. In Serbia, downstrean from Hungary, authorities are monitoring closely the quality of waters even though the heavy metals pollution does not currently threaten the country, Predrag Maric, in charge of emergency situati ... read more

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