As reported by Reuters, a toxic red sludge spill from an alumina plant in western Hungary that occurred on October 4, 2010 has reached a side branch of the Danube, a major European waterway, the spokesman for Hungary's disaster agency says.
Tibor Dobson told Reuters that crews were battling to reduce the spill's alkaline content, which was still at around pH 9 -- above the normal, harmless level of between 6 and 8 -- when it reached the Raba river at 3:30 a.m. GMT and the Mosoni-Danube, a southern branch of the main Danube river by 7:30 a.m. GMT on October 7, 2010.
The Danube's main riverbed is about 20 km from the point where the pollution hit the Mosoni-Danube.
Dobson says the spill had killed fish in the Marcal river first hit by the pollution, which poured out of a containment reservoir of an alumina plant on October 4, 2010.
"The problem is the alkaline," he says, adding that crews had not yet seen fish dying in the Raba river.
Pollution to rivers was seen as an environmental threat from the spill by October 7, 2010, three days after a torrent of toxic red sludge tore through local villages, killing four people and injuring 120. Three people were still reported missing.
Hungary declared a state of emergency in three counties on October 5, 2010 after the sludge -- waste from bauxite refining that has a strong caustic effect and heavy metal content -- struck Kolontar, Devecser and other villages.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Kolontar on October 7, 2010 and says there was no point in even removing the rubble from part of the village, as it was impossible to live there again.
"It is difficult to find the words. Had this happened at night, everybody would be dead," Orban told reporters.
He reiterated that the disaster could not have been due to natural causes.
"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. We are fighting in order to stop the pollution before the Danube."
MAL Zrt, owner of the alumina plant and burst reservoir, says that there had been no sign of the impending disaster, adding that the last inspection of the reservoir on October 4, 2010 had shown nothing wrong.
Kolontar, about 160 km west of Budapest, lies closest to the reservoir of alumina maker Ajkai Timfoldgyar.
Disaster crews, military and local villagers were clearing away the rubble and searching for the three missing people.
Many people had suffered from burns and eye irritations caused by lead and other corrosive elements in the mud. The flood, estimated at about 700,000 cubic metres, swept cars off roads and damaged bridges and houses.
On October 5, 2010, the government suspended production at the plant and police were investigating what may have caused the disaster.
MAL reiterated on October 7, 2010 that it would like to restart production at its alumina plant at the weekend with a new sludge containment pond.
Lajos Tolnay, chairman of MAL, told business daily Vilaggazdasag that if the company were to stop operation, 3,000 jobs would be lost at the firm and at business partners.
He says the plant could safely resume operations.
But many people in Kolontar say they would not move back to their houses, as they did not feel secure.
"I hung in the sludge for 45 minutes . . . It had a strong current that almost swept me away but I managed to hang on to a strong piece of wood of the pigsty," says Etelka Stump. "But I could hardly breathe because that air, that smell, that froth really hit me. I know what it's like because I worked in the bauxite factory for 17 years."
Bauxite mining occurs in part to feed the production of aluminum cans, which are made from the valuable material to prop up blue box economics, whereas some people argue that the containers should be collected under deposit, which gets more of the material back.
This will be the cover story of the forthcoming December/January edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine.