Sludge killing fish in Danube while life in tributary 'extinguished'


CAUSTIC RED sludge from an industrial plant in Hungary has started killing fish in the river Danube after wiping out all life in one of its tributaries.

The mud, which also contains heavy metals, burst out of a huge waste pool at an alumina works on Monday, killing at least four people and injuring 120 as it cascaded across fields and tore through nearby villages.

Three people are still missing after Hungary’s worst ever chemical spill, which has raised fears among neighbouring countries and European Union officials that an accident that local officials have called an “ecological catastrophe” could become a regional disaster. “I can confirm that we have seen sporadic losses of fish in the main branch of the Danube,” said Tibor Dobson, a spokesman for Hungary’s emergency relief services.

“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. “Fish cannot survive at pH 9.1. In order to save the river’s ecosystem, the pH level must be brought down below eight,” Mr Dobson added.

Hundreds of workers have been cleaning up the ruined villages and pouring gypsum and acid into the river Marcal to neutralise the alkali crimson slurry.

The Marcal is a tributary of the Raba, which flows into the Danube that runs from Hungary through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine before reaching the Black Sea.

“Life in the Marcal river has been extinguished. All the fish are dead and we haven’t been able to save the vegetation either,” admitted Mr Dobson.

“The main effort is now being concentrated on the Raba and the Danube. That’s what has to be saved.” In boats and along the banks of the ruddy Marcal, locals heaved buckets brimming with dead fish and demanded compensation for damage to their property and the contamination of their land and rivers.

“If this had happened at night then everyone here would have died,” prime minister Viktor Orban said on a visit to the ravaged village of Kolontar.

“This is an unprecedented ecological catastrophe in Hungary. Human error is more than likely. The wall [of the reservoir] did not disintegrate in a minute. This should have been detected.” The operator of the alumina plant insists safety tests suggested that all was well with the waste pool.