Hungary declared a state of emergency in three counties after a Magyar Aluminium Zrt. toxic sludge reservoir burst yesterday, killing four people, injuring more than 100 and displacing 390.
More than 1 million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of the sludge, a byproduct of alumina production, were released yesterday, flooding Devecser and two nearby villages, 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Budapest, state-run MTI news service reported. The sludge contains heavy metals, including lead, the Interior Ministry’s emergency services department said.
“The disaster caused a grave situation,” the ministry said today in an e-mailed statement. “The Cabinet and its agencies have been in control of defense and reconstruction since the burst occurred.”
Authorities have contained the spill, fortified the reservoir and are working to clean up the affected area, said Gyorgyi Tottos, a spokeswoman for the emergency services department. Toxic material has spilled into the river Marcal, where gypsum is being used to neutralize it, she said. The Marcal is part of the Danube’s tributary system.
The sludge is a slightly radioactive, alkaline material that has the consistency of sour cream, according to the emergency services department. Skin contact causes burns, and several people suffered eye damage, MTI said.
The state of emergency was declared in the northwestern counties of Veszprem, Gyor-Moson-Sopron and Vas, which have a combined population of about 1 million, the Interior Ministry said. Prime Minister Viktor Orban will hold a news conference at 5 p.m. in Budapest after the Cabinet reviews its response.
Magyar Aluminium, a closely held company, said a wall of the reservoir slipped on its clay base, causing it to burst. The material isn’t considered toxic under European Union rules, the company said in a statement on its website. Magyar Aluminium said it had no way of predicting the accident.
“The last physical review, on the same day, and the most recent laboratory evaluation of a water sample from within the reservoir didn’t show any sign of the disaster that occurred,” the company said.
An area of 40 square kilometers (15.4 square miles) has been threatened by the disaster, which Zoltan Illes, a state secretary for the environment, said was “unprecedented” in the world, according to MTI. Hungary may have to spend more than 10 billion forint ($51 million) over several months on the recovery, Illes said, according to the news website Index.
Hungary stores about 50 million tons of the red sludge, with about 800,000 tons produced a year, MTI reported. The production of 1 ton of aluminum yields about 3 tons of the sludge, according to the emergency services department.
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