Warnings over long-term effects of Danube slick

The River Danube may have avoided immediate environmental disaster, but Hungary's massive spill of red sludge could cause more long-term damage than previously thought, it was claimed yesterday.

The crimson tide of aluminium-plant waste reached the Danube on Thursday, but Hungarian ministers and officials were still insisting it did not present a major problem for Europe's second-longest river. Hungary's Interior Minister, Sandor Pinter, said the spill had not affected the drinking water supply so far and government spokeswoman Anna Nagy said the food chain was safe. Despite initial fears, Mr Pinter said that the pollution would be so diluted by the volume of water in the river that nations downstream, such as Serbia and Romania, would not be affected. "It will not be of an extent which would cause biological or environmental damage," he said.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the threat to the Danube had been eliminated, and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube, a Vienna-based group that monitors the river and its tributaries, said that the consequences "do not seem to be that dramatic".

However, assurances from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences which claimed that the sludge, which burst out of a containment reservoir near the village of Kolontar, did not contain harmful heavy metals were contradicted by Greenpeace. It said that laboratory tests showed high concentrations of heavy metals in the sludge which risked causing pervasive and lasting environmental damage in the Kolontar area.

Red sludge samples taken on Tuesday, a day after the spill, contained "surprisingly high" levels of arsenic and mercury, Greenpeace said. The campaigning group said its analysis suggested that roughly 50 tonnes of arsenic, 300 tonnes of chrome and half a tonne of mercury were unleashed by the spill. The detected arsenic concentration was twice the amount normally found in so-called red mud, a waste product in aluminum production. Analysis of water in a canal near the spill also found arsenic levels 25 times the limit for drinking water, Greenpeace said.

The warnings conflicted with the view of the prestigious academy, which reiterated yesterday that the red sludge remained hazardous due to its caustic alkalinity but its heavy metal concentrations were not considered dangerous for the environment.

Greenpeace said it had taken test samples from sludge in Kolontar, located closest to the burst reservoir of the alumina plant, showing that data taken by government health and science agencies had underestimated the ecological dangers unleashed. The group said its conclusion was supported by findings of the Federal Environmental Institute in Vienna and the Balint Analytical Institute in Budapest.

Zsolt Szegfalvi, director of Greenpeace Hungary, said arsenic, mercury and chromium levels were especially high at Kolontar. "This contamination poses a long-term risk to both the water base and the ecosystem," a Greenpeace statement said.

More than 150 people were injured in the disaster, with inhabitants suffering from burns and eye ailments caused by the sludge's caustic elements, while the death toll rose to seven yesterday, when rescue services found two more bodies near Devecser, a town in western Hungary inundated Monday by the sludge. Officials said they were probably residents missing from nearby Kolontar.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?