Friday, October 8, 2010

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European Union to Hungary: Don't let toxic sludge hit Danube
An aerial view of the broken dyke of a reservoir containing red mud of an alumina factory near Ajka, 156 kms southwest of Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010. AP

European Union to Hungary: Don't let toxic sludge hit Danube

2 days ago at 21:04 | Associated Press
KOLONTAR, Hungary (AP) — Hungary opened a criminal probe into the toxic sludge flood Wednesday and the European Union urged emergency authorities to do everything they can to keep the contaminated slurry from reaching the Danube and affecting half a dozen other nations.
Hundreds of people had to be evacuated after a gigantic sludge reservoir burst Monday at a metals plant in Ajka, a town 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Budapest, the capital.
At least four people were killed, three are still missing and 120 were injured as the unstoppable torrent inundated homes, swept cars off roads and disgorged an estimated 1 million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of toxic waste onto several nearby towns.
It was still not known Wednesday why part of the reservoir failed. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said authorities were caught off guard by the disaster since the plant and reservoir had been inspected only two weeks earlier and no irregularities had been found.
National Police Chief Jozsef Hatala decided to take over the probe because of its importance and complexity, police spokeswoman Monika Benyi told The Associated Press, adding that a criminal case had been opened by the country's top investigative body into possible on-the-job carelessness.
The huge reservoir, more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) long and 500 yards (450 meters) wide, was no longer leaking Wednesday but a triple-tiered protective wall was being built around its damaged area. Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said guards have been posted at the site to give an early warning in case of any new emergency.
The red torrent has already reached the Marcal River but it was not clear Wednesday how far down the river it had spread. Emergency workers were pouring 1,000 tons of plaster into the water to try to bind the sludge and keep it from flowing into the Danube, 45 miles (72 kilometers) away.
The Hungarian Water Regulation Authority estimated Tuesday it would take the sludge about five days to reach the Danube, one of Europe's key waterways. South of Hungary, the Danube flows through Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova before emptying into the Black Sea.
Hungary's National Rescue Service said engineers considered diverting the Marcal into nearby fields but decided not to, fearing the damage from the diversion would be too great.
Workers were also extracting sludge from the river and using plaster and acid to neutralize the toxic chemicals. Initial pH measurements showed the sludge had an extremely alkaline value of 13 after the spill, the service said.
The European Union said it feared the toxic flood could turn into an ecological disaster for several nations and urged Hungarian authorities to focus all efforts on keeping the sludge from the Danube.
"It is important that we do .... everything possible that it would not go, that it would not endanger the Danube," EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik told the AP in Brussels. "We have to do this very moment everything possible ... (to) limit the extent of the damage."
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