At the beginning of this month, a catastrophic amount of red mud filled with alkaline broke through the worn out containment walls of the Ajkai Timfoldgyar Zrt alumina plant near Kolontar, Hungary, after days of heavy rain. Between then and now, 9 people have died and close to 250 people where injured.

TOXIC SPILL, AJKA, HUNGARY-OCTOBER 9, 2010: This is an image of the toxic spill in Ajka, Hungary affecting the villages of Kolontar and Devecsar Hungary. (credit: DigitalGlobe, source: Wikimedia)

To prevent the red mud from reaching the Danube, the second largest river in Europa and main drinking water supply of the region, the local authorities deployed a rather unconventional containment plan: pouring gypsum over the land, dumping tons of clay and vinegar into rivers to neutralize the alkalinity of the contaminated areas. This does not mean of course that anything has been cleaned up, rather that the efforts to save the Danube worked and that the red toxic mud was contained. But now remains the question of how this ecological disaster will be fixed? If fixed it can be.

Wild animals, farm animals and pets alike have perished due to the toxic mud. Crops are wasted, gardens are destroyed for good and reserves for winter are all gone. Rescue teams are working hard to fight their way through the mud and hose down streets to disperse the sludge while their shoes and rubber boots are being eaten away by the toxic alkali in the red mud. Those who came in contact with the red mud and got injured face chemical burns that might look superficial but are susceptible to cause delayed damage to deeper tissue. Just by inhaling the toxic mud particles nose, lungs and other organs might be damaged for good. The affected villages face an even more morbid future. According to Robert Fidrich (Friends of the Earth Hungary) “nobody will be able to live there for 10 years or more.”

In the meantime, the aluminum company MAL Zrt, that lies at the origin of the disaster in the first place, said that, according to EU standards, the red mud was not considered toxic waste and that they are not to blame. As for them it’s the rain who did it! Euh??

Anyway, according to me, I think we are all more or less to blame. We all come in contact with aluminum, oh yes we do! And when we do – as with all things – we never really think about where and how the things we touch, own, buy are produced or manufactured. So next time you get into your car, or you open that can of soda, think about the toxic byproducts of your actions. Or maybe rethink them and who knows, you might help save the Hungarian rivers from another ecological catastrophe.

Lead image source: istockphoto.com