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The Hungary sludge flood that occurred on Monday 4th October has hit the news and the world as one posing danger to the eco system. A state of emergency was declared in Hungary on Tuesday 5th October 2010 in three of its states following a toxic red sludge flood flowing from a failed waste reservoir at Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant in Ajkai, affecting several neighboring towns and causing massive destruction.
Hundreds of people had to be evacuated and temporarily relocated after the torrent flowed into homes, swept cars off road and caused destruction on roads and bridges as the industrial waste flowed into several nearby towns (Gorondi, 2010). The sludge flood left four dead, about six people missing and more than 120 people injured.
The Red Sludge Ecological Disaster
The environmental affairs state secretary informed the MTI news that as of Thursday, approximately one million cubic meters of the red sludge had leaked from the reservoir affecting an area of approximately 40 square kilometers. He further referred to the sludge flood as an ecological catastrophe thereby suspending all the activities of the company and ordering it to repair the broken reservoir (Gorondi, 2010).
He further warned that content of the sludge featured heavy metals some of which may cause cancer and respiratory complications especially with the warm weather that is aiding evaporation hence transforming the red sludge into dust. He also predicted further environmental hazards especially if the sludge found its way into the ground water (Jahn 2010).
The red sludge reached the Danube River on Thursday 7th October 2010. This has posed threat to some of the nations along one of the major European water way and also saw one of the Hungarian tributary dead. The sludge flood also caused death to aquatic and wildlife in the areas flooded by the industrial waste. The rescue team tried to salvage the situation by pouring plaster and acetic acid into the affected areas in order to lower the Ph levels that were initially highly alkaline.
Tons of plaster was also poured into the Marcal River in attempt to prevent the sludge from spreading further. However, the aquatic life in this river was adversely affected and the waste found its way into the Raba River, which then flows to River Danube. The Hungarian rescue agency confirmed that the Ph of the sludge seeping into River Danube has been decreased and it is unlikely to lead to further environmental degradation.
Environmentalists have warned that the flood may cause long term damage to the regions top soil thereby affecting farming activity. Approximately 2000 acres of top soil will eventually have to be replaced to make the land suitable for Agriculture since the sludge has destroyed the nutrients required to keep the soil fertile and capable of supporting agriculture (Jahn 2010).
The red sludge is a waste product resulting from bauxite refining which is the basic product for the production of alumina. It is composed of heavy metals and is toxic if ingested hence posing danger to life.
Residents used snow shovels and wore no more protective materials other than rubber gloves in attempt to salvage their possessions. Dozens of them received severe burns as the red sludge penetrated through their clothing.
Hungarian environmentalist explained that the burns resulted from accumulation of the sludge in the reservoir for a long time causing it to become extremely alkaline with a Ph of 13 (Gorondi, 2010). Those that were injured by the sludge had to be closely monitored since the chemical burns could take longer time to emerge and could eventually cause severe damage to the body’s deeper tissues.
It remains unclear as to what caused the reservoir to collapse. Meteorologists at AccuWeather.com have proposed that recent unusually high precipitation in areas in central Europe may have been one of the factors that contributed to the collapse of the reservoir as spring and winter rainfalls were 200% above normal (Jahn 2010). This may have consequently weakened the walls that contained the sludge causing it to collapse and cause the leakage.
According to the company’s management, the sludge does not pose danger to human life and the occurrence would not have been prevented by any precautions on their side. They argue that the plant had recently been inspected and displayed no signs of irregularity. However, the collapsed reservoir was not leaking by Thursday and a protective wall was built around the damaged part and measures have been put in place to alert incase of emergency (Jahn 2010).
Industrial poisoning is one of the major problems facing any world’s ecosystem. Some occur merely as fatal accidents while others happen as a result of carelessness and negligence by the company employees. Industrial accidents are inevitable to occur and sometimes the magnitude of the damage is not evident until it is too late to contain it.
The Hungarian prime minister suggested that the leakage could have emanated from human error but the company responded by issuing a report that indicated that the company management could not have predicted the occurrence of the natural catastrophe hence could not have done anything to prevent it.
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A number Hungarians lost their lives to the sludge while others were severely injured and millions worth of property was destroyed. According to environmentalists, a report filed in 2003 cautioned the government on the risks of the accumulated red sludge and estimated that the content of waste weighed up to 30 million tons.
When the red sludge is allowed to accumulate over the years, it forms one of the largest amounts of toxic waste in the country. This occurrence should help the Hungarian government and the management of the company to embrace the views of environmental groups in the future and address the situations brought to their attention by these groups to avoid loss of life and property through industrial accidents
While uncertainties still surround the cause of the sludge flooding in Hungary, it is vital that the company takes responsibility of the situation, assess the damage the spillage caused, establish safer method of storing and discarding the waste products from their manufacturing processes as well as devising mechanisms to prevent the same occurrence from taking place in the future.
The government on the other hand should stop playing the blame game and aim at protecting its citizens from having to endure such demise again. It should strengthen its governing policies on industrial manufacturing industry as well as improving its responsiveness to disaster mechanisms in order to protect life. The Hungarian government should also seek to find the cause of the sludge flooding and take stern measures to avoid such cases in future.
Gorondi, P. (2010). The daily caller: Crews struggle to clear toxic Hungary sludge flood. Web.
Jahn, G. (2010). Toxic red sludge reaches the Danube River. Associated press. Web.