Toxic red sludge reaches the Danube

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The toxic red sludge that burst out of a metals plant reservoir and inundated three villages reached the Danube today, but an Hungarian emergency official said no immediate damage was evident on Europe's second-longest river.

The European Union and environmental officials had feared an environmental catastrophe affecting half a dozen nations if the red sludge, a waste product of making aluminum, contaminated the 1,775-mile long Danube.



The reservoir break on Monday disgorged a toxic torrent into local creeks that flow into waterways connected to the Danube. Creeks in Kolontar, the closest town to the spill site, were swollen ochre red yesterday and villagers said they were devoid of fish. Kolontar is 45 miles south of the Danube.



The red sludge reached the western branch of the Danube early today, Hungarian rescue agency spokesman Tibor Dobson told the state MTI news agency. He did not address concerns that the caustic slurry might contain toxic metals but said its pH content had been reduced to the point where it was unlikely to cause further damage to the environment.



Dobson said the pH content, which officials earlier said was at 13, was now under 10 and no dead fish had been spotted where the slurry was entering the Danube. The National Disaster Management Directorate, in a separate statement, said the pH value was at 9.3 and constantly decreasing. Normal ph levels for surface water range from 6.5 to 8.5.



South of Hungary, the Danube flows through Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova before emptying into the Black Sea.



At the Croatian village of Batina, the first site after the Danube leaves Hungary, experts were taking water samples today which they will repeat daily for the next week, the state-run news agency HINAS reported.



In Romania, water levels were reported safe today, with testing being carried out every three hours, said Romanian Waters spokeswoman Ana Maria Tanase. She said the Danube water had a pH of 8.5, which was within normal levels, but tests were being done to check for heavy metals.



Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited the three villages coated by the red sludge today and declared the worst-hit area a write-off, saying he sees "no sense" in rebuilding in the same location.



Local officials said 34 homes in Kolontar were unlivable. However, furious residents said the disaster had destroyed the whole community of 800 by making their land valueless.



Angry villagers gathered outside the mayor's office yesterday and berated a senior official of MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company that owns the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant, demanding compensation.



"The whole settlement should be bulldozed into the ground," bellowed Janos Potza. "There's no point for anyone to go back home."



"Those who can, will move out of Kolontar. From now on, this is a dead town," fumed Beata Gasko Monek.



It is still not known why part of the reservoir collapsed. Authorities have ordered a criminal inquiry into the accident, which killed at least four people, injured 120 and left three people missing amid an estimated torrent of 35 million cubic feet of toxic waste.



A spokeswoman for the National Police said investigators would look into whether on-the-job carelessness was a factor.



The huge reservoir, more than 300 metres long and 450 metres wide, was no longer leaking and a triple-tiered protective wall was being built around its damaged section. Guards have been posted at the breach to give an early warning in case of any new emergency.



The sludge spill is "one of the top three environmental disasters in Europe in the last 20 or 30 years," said Herwit Schuster, a spokesman for Greenpeace International.



The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube, which manages the river and its tributaries, said the sludge spill could trigger long-term damaging effects for both wildlife and humans.



"It is a very serious accident and has potential implications for other countries," Philip Weller, the group's executive secretary, said from Brussels.



Weller said factories and towns along the Danube may have to shut down their water intake systems. He said large fish in the Danube could ingest any heavy metals carried downstream, potentially endangering people who eat them.



Red sludge is a byproduct of the refining of bauxite into alumina, the basic material for manufacturing aluminum. Treated sludge is often stored in ponds where the water eventually evaporates, leaving behind a dried red clay-like soil.



Hungarian company officials have insisted the sludge is not considered hazardous waste according to EU standards. The company has also rejected criticism that it should have taken more precautions at the reservoir.



Alumina plants are scattered around the world, with the 12 largest concentrated in Australia, Brazil and China. The plant in Hungary ranks 53rd in the world in production, according to industry statistics.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before