Toxic red mud reaches the Danube

A scarecrow tells the story. Photo credit: Darko Bandic / Allied Press

Monday’s toxic red mud catastrophe in Hungary that has claimed four lives already has now reached the Danube.

The Hungarian Natural Disaster Agency announced today that the toxic waste had penetrated the Moson branch of the River Danube, but at least not before emergency workers had managed to reduce the pH value from 13 to 9.3, also using military helicopters. Even so, the acetic acid and plaster that they are using to achieve this can also be toxic to wildlife.

The World Wildlife Fund said yesterday that the toxic mud could have serious long-lasting effect on the soil, groundwater, plants and animals, with acting CEO of WWF-Hungary, Gbor Figeczky, commenting that the damage to wildlife was so bad that it could not even begin to be evaluated.

Figeczky pointed out how waters polluted by the toxic mud would inevitably affect the Danube and endanger parts of Europe’s Natura 2000 protected areas, making it a natural disaster of huge proportions. The heavy metals contained in the mud either kill fauna and flora immediately or accumulate in them, with dire long-term consequences.

The disaster struck when millions of gallons of red mud, a bauxite residue, burst the reservoir of an aluminium plant and smashed its way through nearby villages, with the worst hit being Kolontar. It is in such a bad condition that the PM has even suggested moving the entire village somewhere else. Four people are know to have died so far, with hundreds being treated in hospital for skin burns and other difficulties.

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