Hungary accused over red sludge leak


GREENPEACE WANTS the EU to force Hungary to take action over toxic waste the environmental group says is still leaking from an alumina plant that caused a deadly disaster last October.

Ten people were killed when a waste pool burst its banks and sent more than one million cubic metres of corrosive red sludge surging across 40sq km, inundating local villages and forcing the evacuation of residents.

Hungary’s government, which now holds the rotating EU presidency, took control of the MAL Hungarian Aluminium facility and pledged to clean up the area and compensate victims.

However, Greenpeace says the plant is operating again without having staunched the leak of poisonous chemicals into waterways that flow into the Danube, Europe’s second longest river.

“It’s disgusting that the Hungarian government allows a company under its control to commit this environmental crime and continue to produce these toxic substances that are no longer in the waste ponds but also in the natural waters,” said Greenpeace Hungary campaigner Balazs Tomori.

“The EU Commission has to intervene with the Hungarian government immediately to stop this threat to humans, animals and nature.”

In the aftermath of the disaster rescue workers poured tonnes of acid and gypsum into the small rivers around the alumina plant to neutralise the highly alkaline sludge and prevent contamination of the Danube.

Greenpeace said it had received “alarming” results from tests on waste water from the facility performed by laboratories in Hungary and Austria. It discovered arsenic levels of 1,300 micrograms per litre in waste water samples. Austria considers 100 micrograms per litre to be a safe level.

The laboratories also found the aluminium content of the water to be 100 times above the legal limit, and organic carbon to be at levels five times higher than those considered permissible.

A government spokeswoman this week described multi-million euro efforts to clean up the contaminated area, rehouse victims and redevelop the affected villages as a “miracle”. However, the EU criticised Hungary for failing to classify the sludge as hazardous waste, something the conservative government has blamed on the previous socialist administration.

Officials say the facility, a major employer in western Hungary, has been granted a new environmental permit to operate, but must change the way it treats the noxious red sludge.