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Hungary toxic sludge spill reaches Danube

Serbia, Croatia step up monitoring of Danube for pollution
Belgrade (AFP) Oct 7, 2010 - Serbia and Croatia have stepped up monitoring of the Danube following the toxic spill in Hungary, but no pollution was detected on Thursday, officials said. "We are following the situation minute-by-minute and we have strenghtened measures on the Danube, along with cooperation with Hungarian authorities," Serbian Ecology Minister Oliver Dulic told state television RTS. Dulic added that "there is no information up to now that the Danube is polluted" in the Serbian part of Europe's second largest river. In neighbouring Croatia, the authorities have begun strict monitoring of the Danube river near Batina, close to the Serbian border, the national protection and rescue service said in a statement. Samples of the water will be taken from Danube on a daily basis for the next week depending on developments, the statement said. Dead fish were sighted in the Danube on Thursday near the confluence of the Raba river, one of the worst-hit tributaries, following the bursting Monday of a resevoir of caustic sludge near an aluminum smelter

Romania fears Hungary toxic spill, seeks info
Bucharest (AFP) Oct 7, 2010 - Romania has asked Hungary for more information on the toxic sludge spill that reached the Danube Thursday, while gearing up for the risk of drinking water contamination in towns along the river. "We are prepared for all contingencies," Adrian Draghici, the head of the water management authority in Mehedinti county, 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of Bucharest, told AFP. "If we have the slightest indication that the Danube's waters are polluted on entering Romanian territory we will immediately impose a full restriction on drinking water supplies from the river." The pollution wave could reach Romania Saturday, after travelling through southern Hungary, Croatia and Serbia he stressed, adding that water quality controls have been reinforced. Meanwhile, Romanian authorities complain neighbouring Hungary has not informed them of the exact nature of the heavy metals contained in the toxic mud unleashed Monday from the reservoir of an alumina plant at Ajka, 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Budapest.

"In the absence of accurate information on the polluting substances all we can do is guess and this makes our job more difficult" a source close to the water management authority told AFP. The European Commission has not been given details on this either, the source said. Romanian parliament's environment protection committee too called on Hungarian counterparts to provide full information on the toxic spill. "It is crucial for Romania to have all the data in order to prevent an expansion of the disaster, given that several towns along the Danube get their drinking water from the river," the head of the committee and former environment minister Sulfina Barbu said. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned against the "long-term risk for the population and the ecosystem." "Even if the toxic substances get diluted in the water, they accumulate in sediments and this poses a major risk," Orieta Hulea, head of WWF's Danube/Freshwater Programme, told AFP.
by Staff Writers
Budapest (AFP) Oct 7, 2010
Dead fish floated in the Danube Thursday after a toxic sludge spill that killed four people in Hungary reached Europe's second longest river, threatening to decimate marine life, officials said.

Blood-red sludge reached the main branch of the Danube at around midday (1000 GMT), after wiping out all life in the smaller Marcal tributary, said Tibor Dobson, the regional chief of Hungary's disaster relief services.

"I can confirm that we have seen sporadic losses of fish in the main branch of the Danube," Dobson said.

"The fish have been sighted at the confluence of the Raba with the Danube," where water samples had shown a pH value of 9.1, he said.

"In order to save the river's ecosystem, the pH level must be brought down below 8," Dobson said.

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.

Dobson said that pH values of 9.6 had been measured in the Raba, a tributary of the Danube, up from earlier in the day, and 9.4 in the Danube's Mosoni branch.

In the village of Gyirmot, where the Marcal flows into the Raba, volunteers collected bucketfuls of dead fish from the stinking water, which was covered in a slimy film of grey bubbles caused by the chemical gyspum, which was pumped in in to reduce alkalinity.

The toxic spill poured from a reservoir at an aluminium plant in Ajka, 160 kilometres (100 miles) west of Budapest, which burst on Monday, sending 1.1 million cubic metres (38.8 million cubic feet) of 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 of the Raba, which in turn flows into the Danube, that runs from Hungary through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine before reaching the Black Sea.

Serbia, Croatia and Romania said they were stepping up monitoring of the river given the risk of drinking water contamination in towns along the river.

Adrian Draghici, head of the water management authority in Mehedinti county, 400 kilometres west of Bucharest, said the pollution wave could reach Romania Saturday.

But a Hungarian water official downplayed the long-term impact of the pollution on the Danube, saying it would only affect a limited part of the waterway.

"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 downstream of the point where the Raba flows into the Danube, and 80 kilometres upsteam of Budapest.

Environmentalists have expressed alarm about the possible long-term effects of the disaster.

"The heavy metals are the danger in the long run," Gabor Figeczky, acting head of nature protection body the WWF in Hungary, told AFP.

Figeczky said the Marcal's ecosystem could take between three and five years to recover.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban earlier visited Kolontar, and said it may have to rebuilt elsewhere because the ground was uninhabitable.

He insisted Hungary did not need financial help, but would welcome expertise to help clean up the spill.

In Brussels, the European Commission said Hungary had requested the dispatch of three to five experts in cleaning up toxic spills under the bloc's joint civil protection assistance measures.

MAL Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company, the company at the centre of the disaster, plans to pay out "rapid aid" of 360 euros (504 dollars) to each family, or 110,000 euros in total, according to the mayor of one of the hardest-hit villages.

MAL has come under fierce criticism, with officials suggesting too much of the caustic red sludge was contained in the reservoir, but the company insists it has done nothing wrong.

earlier related report
All water life in Hungary's toxic river is dead: official
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.




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WATER WORLD
All water life in Hungary's toxic river is dead: official
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 M ... read more

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