Hungary drowning in toxic red sludge

Emergency
services in Hungary are trying to stop a torrent of toxic red sludge flowing
into major waterways, including the River Danube.

A
state of emergency has been declared in three western counties after the chemical
waste burst from a reservoir at an alumina plant.

So
far at least four people have died and 120 injured. Six more are missing.

At
least seven villages and towns are affected including Devecser, where the
torrent stood 6.5ft deep.

The
sludge – a mixture of water and mining waste containing heavy metals – is
considered hazardous according to Hungary’s National Directorate General for
Disaster Management (NDGDM).

While
the cause of the deaths has not been established officially, it is believed the
victims probably drowned.

Some
600,000-700,000 cubic metres (21m-24m cubic feet) of sludge escaped from the
plant, 100 miles from the capital, Budapest.

With
7,000 people affected directly by the disaster, a state of emergency was
declared in the county of Veszprem where the spill occurred, and
Gyor-Moson-Sopron and Vas, where the sludge appeared to be heading.

At
least 390 residents have been relocated and 110 rescued from flooded areas, the
NDGDM said.

Plaster
has been poured into the Marcal River in a bid to bind the sludge and stop
further flooding.

Police
are investigating the spill and tests are still being carried out to determine
the environmental impact of the leak.

Zoltan
Illes, state secretary for the environment ministry, described the flood as the
worst chemical accident in Hungary’s history.

Weeks
of heavy rain are likely to have played a role in the accident officials said.

The
sludge escaped from a reservoir at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant in the town of
Ajka. Police say they have confiscated documents from the company’s
headquarters.

MAL
Rt, the Hungarian company which owns the plant, earlier said that by EU
standards the sludge had not been considered hazardous.

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Local residents are rescued by a tractor in the town of Devecser
Photo: Guardian

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