Red Sludge: Hungary's Ecological Catastrophe

Toxic red sludge has flooded three counties in Hungary. The story of the sludge, which leaked from an aluminum plant in Ajka, a town about 100 miles southwest of Budapest, has all of the elements of a sci-fi horror film: Local environmentalists tried to warn the government about the sludge years before, and are now dusting off a 2003 report where they estimated the total waste at 30 million tons. The sludge, a waste product from aluminum production, has killed four people, and injured at least 120. According to Environmental Affairs State Secretary Zoltan Illes, 35.3 million cubic feet of sludge has leaked so far, poisoning about 15.4 square miles. Illes also called the deluge an "ecological catastrophe," that could affect the Raba and Danube rivers. The National Disaster Management Directorate says several hundred tons of plaster were poured into the Marcal River to bind the sludge and keep it from flowing. Now, the company that owns the Ajka plant is denying the toxicity of the sludge.

MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company that owns the Ajka plant, said that according to European Union standards, the red sludge was not considered toxic waste. The company also denied that it should have taken more precautions to shore up the reservoir.

"According to the current evaluation, company management could not have noticed the signs of the natural catastrophe nor done anything to prevent it even while carefully respecting technological procedures," MAL said in a statement.

Read the full story at the Associated Press.

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Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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