Hungary Says Spilled Toxic Red Sludge's Arsenic Content Exceeded Limit
The arsenic content of the toxic sludge released in Hungary when a reservoir burst last week exceeded the limit for such waste in the vicinity of the wall breach, the Hungarian Academy of Science said today.
The collapse of the wall on Oct. 4 unleashed a torrent of toxic material on nearby villages that eventually reached the Danube through local waterways. The number of people killed by the toxic waste reached nine after a victim died in the hospital today, the country’s emergency service said on its website.
Scientists are continuing tests to determine the reason for the elevated arsenic content, the academy in Budapest said in an e-mailed statement today. The waste material’s content of cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, lead and zinc was within the limit, according to the statement.
“Water reserves aren’t directly threatened by the toxic material as not even the most hazardous heavy metals contained in the sludge seeped deeper than 10 centimeters into the ground,” the academy said.
An aerial photo of the reservoir, taken by the Hungarian company Interspect on June 11, showed a leak at the northern wall of the reservoir, the environmental group WWF Hungary said on its website. The company, which specializes in aerial photography, shared the photo with universities and environmental groups, Interspect director Gabor Bako told the Associated Press.
Hungary’s government has no evidence of the toxic sludge reservoir that burst last week having leaked before the spill, disaster commissioner Gyorgy Bakondi told Bloomberg News in Veszprem, Hungary today.
The government’s environmental agency examined the reservoir two weeks before the accident and found everything in order, AP said. Police are scrutinizing the photo as part of an investigation into the causes of the accident, according to AP.
There has been no shift at the endangered section of the reservoir wall and two of three dikes planned to contain a potential new spill have been completed, according to the government’s website. The third is being elevated, it said.
The worst-hit towns of Kolontar and Devecser, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Budapest, are now safe because of the dikes, Interior Minister Sandor Pinter told reporters in nearby Veszprem today.
Workers at Magyar Aluminium Zrt., the alumina plant that owns the reservoir, testified against Zoltan Bakonyi, the detained top executive at the company, also known as Mal, Nepszabadsag said.
Investigators have more than 20 statements against Bakonyi, including from other executives, which claim that he had been aware of the diluted sludge seeping through the wall of the reservoir, the Budapest-based newspaper said, without citing anyone. A court in the town of Veszprem will decide today on the potential extension of Bakonyi’s detention, a spokeswoman for the court told Bloomberg News.
Lajos Tolnay, Mal’s chairman and 40 percent owner, said the accident was caused by “an unpreventable outside force, that is, the outcome of conditions in nature,” Figyelo reported. Mal staff followed all the regulations governing sludge storage, he said in an interview with the Budapest-based weekly, to be published tomorrow.
The government has excluded the possibility of the accident having been a result of natural causes and “could only have been a human or technological error,” Bakondi said in Veszprem today. Mal may resume production tomorrow or Friday after the state took control of the company and froze its assets, he said.
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