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Hungary says clean-up of toxic spill could take a year

Contamination will not reach the Danube: official
Gyor, Hungary (AFP) Oct 6, 2010 - The clean up of rivers affected by a tide of toxic red sludge is well under way and effective so contamination should not reach the Danube, Europe's second longest river, an official said Wednesday. "If our calculations are right then by the time the sludge reaches the Danube contamination will be under the acceptable levels," Emil Jenak, president of Northern Transdanubian Water Managment company, told AFP. "Normally the pH level of the Marcal river (where contamination killed fish) is under 8, but now it stands at 10.2 in the upper areas of the river," he said, referring to the levels of acidity in the water.

So far most of the fish have died in the Torna and Marcal rivers, closest to where an aluminium plant's by-product reservoir burst its banks on Monday spilling over one million cubic meters of toxic sludge into the surrounding areas. Three adults and one child were killed and 123 injured, while three people are still missing. The National Disaster Relief Team, firefighters and the water management company created special checkpoints at five bridges along the Marcal river to place a special neutralising agent into the water which has led to a drop in alkaline levels. "The contamination in the Marcal will reach the Raba river at around 9:00 pm local time (1900 GMT) by which time the pH levels should be under 10," added Jenak. "By adding gypsum (a special powder) and through the natural cycle of the water's self-cleaning by the time the Raba reaches the Danube the pH level should stand below or around 8 (the normal level)," said Jenak.

Officials feared that pollution leeching from the tank could reach the Danube river, which courses through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine before flowing into the Black Sea. Near the next river junction, where the Marcal meets the Raba river the situation is much better with fish still seen living in the water. "Here we can scare live fish downriver so they will not consume the poisonous water," Gabor Szilagyi, president of the Forward Fishing Authority of Gyor, told AFP. The fishing authority uses a special electronic gear that send sound signals underwater which scares fish in the opposite direction so they will not consume the contaminated water.
by Staff Writers
Budapest (AFP) Oct 6, 2010
A damburst of toxic sludge that killed at least four people and left scores needing treatment for chemical burns and other injuries could take up to a year to clean up, officials said Wednesday.

"The clean-up and reconstruction could take months, even a year," Environment Secretary Zoltan Illes said.

On Monday, the retaining walls of a reservoir at an aluminium plant in Ajka in western Hungary collapsed, sending a toxic soup of industrial waste cascading through seven villages.

The devastation spread across an area of 40 square kilometers (15.4 square miles) in what officials say is Hungary's worst-ever chemical accident.

Three adults and one child were killed and 123 people were injured, while three people are still missing.

Karoly Tily, the mayor of Kolontar, the village where all four victims died, declared Wednesday a day of mourning, and the company which owned the reservoir, the Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company (MAL), said it would foot the costs of the funerals.

Illes told online publication Langlovak in an interview that the overall costs of the clean-up and reconstruction "could reach tens of millions of euros (dollars)."

If MAL was unable to drum up the funds, "the sum will be borne by the Hungarian government, or it might be necessary to ask the European Union for aid," he said.

The tidal wave of sludge overturned cars, swept away possessions and raised fears that pollution leeching from it could reach the Danube River, which courses through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine before flowing into the Black Sea.

Late Wednesday officials said they were confident the contamination would not reach Europe's second longest river

"If our calculations are right then by the time the sludge reaches the Danube contamination will be under the acceptable levels," Emil Jenak, president of Northern Transdanubian Water Management, told AFP.

A pollution expert, quoted by the Hungarian news agency MTI, said rain and neutralising agents used so far had already led to a drop in alkaline levels in the Marcal river "and the connecting Raba will suffer much less damage" than feared.

But environmental organisation Greenpeace detected lead, chrome and arsenic in samples taken from a tributary of the Marcal, the river Torma.

The mud -- a residue from aluminium production which is highly corrosive and contains toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and chromium -- destroyed all vegetation other than trees and seeped into hundreds of houses in villages and contaminated waterways.

A spokeswoman for the disaster relief services, Timea Petroczi, insisted that the drinking water system had not been affected, but "as a precautionary measure, people are not allowed to use the water wells".

Residents were also banned from eating any home-grown produce or from hunting or fishing in the region, she said.

Eyewitnesses say the force of the wave was so strong that cars were sucked out from their garages and it tore out windows and doors, covering everything.

"I've lost everything. We've lost everything," said one man standing in front of the remains of his house, which he said he had just spent 5,000 euros (6,900 dollars) in renovating.

Two days after the disaster, cars, debris and dead animals still littered streets and fields.

"It is still chaos here, nobody knows what to do or where to start," said one volunteer worker.

"I think it's a disgrace. Things are going so slowly. The flood was on Monday and now on Wednesday we're still waiting for orders," he said.

National police chief Jozsef Hatala said the national bureau of investigation MNY would take over the probe into the accident "given the complexity and importance of the matter".

MAL has suspended all operations at the plant amid suggestions that the spill was caused by too much sludge in the tanks.

Company chief Zoltan Bakonyi warned that if production were not resumed soon, MAL could go bankrupt.

The company is the sole large employer in the impoverished region and has a workforce of 1,100.




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Hungary declares emergency as toxic mud spill kills four
Budapest (AFP) Oct 6, 2010
Hungary declared a state of emergency after a toxic mud spill swamped seven villages killing four people and injuring 120 in what officials said was the country's worst-ever chemical accident. Eight of the injured were in a serious condition and six people were missing after the walls of a reservoir of residue at an aluminium plant broke on Monday afternoon. Officials feared the death toll c ... read more

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