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NEWS: Hungary’s toxic sludge reaches the Danube

The Globe and Mail reported that, “(On Monday) a gigantic sludge reservoir (tailings pond) burst its banks at metals plant in Ajka, a town 160 kilometres southwest of Budapest, the capital (of Hungary). The torrent inundated homes, swept cars off roads and damaged bridges, disgorging an estimated 35.3 million cubic feet of toxic waste onto several nearby towns. …At least four people have been killed by the sludge, three were still missing and 120 injured, many with burns.”

Today, the newspaper reports that, “A government official says the toxic sludge that flowed from a metals plant reservoir earlier this week has reached the Danube. Emergency services spokesman Tibor Dobson told the state MTI news agency that the red sludge reached a western branch of Europe’s second-largest river early Thursday. But he says that highly caustic slurry… has been reduced to the point where it is unlikely to cause further damage to the environment.”

“The Danube, a 2,850-kilometre-long river that passes through some of the continent’s most pristine vistas from its origin in Germany to its end point emptying into the Black Sea. The river flows through four former communist nations — Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria. One of the continent’s greatest treasuries of wildlife, it has been the focus of a multibillion dollar post-communist cleanup.”

CTV.ca adds, “Environmental groups say the reservoir has concerned them for years. They have also measured the pH of the sludge and say it is highly alkaline, meaning that it can cause burns similar to bleach or lyme.”  Scott Cardiff, international campaign co-ordinator with Earthworks, says, “It’s incredibly corrosive. It’s caustic. These red sludges produced from the alumina refining are very dangerous for humans and for the ecosystems. We expect contamination through the sediment of the waterways, but also contamination with heavy metals, with lead, possibly cadmium.”


Environmentalists are already starting to ask if a similar disaster could happen here. The tar sands-produced tailings ponds – contaminated with toxic chemicals such as naphthenic acid and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – occupy some 170 square kilometres of northern Alberta.

National Geographic
magazine reported in February 2009 that, “In the oldest and most notorious (tailings pond), Suncor’s Pond 1, the sludge is perched high above the river held back by a dike of compacted sand that rises more than 300 feet from the valley floor and is studded with pine trees. The dike has leaked in the past, and in 2007 a modeling study done by hydrogeologists at the University of Waterloo estimated that 45,000 gallons a day of contaminated water could be reaching the river.”

The Globe and Mail reported in December 2009 that researchers, “found deposits of bitumen particulates within a 50-kilometre radius around Suncor and Syncrude’s upgraders (in northern Alberta) – twice the previous distance estimate. The deposits were ’substantial’ and enough to form an oily slick on the snow when it was melted. …(Their) study estimates about 34,000 tonnes of particulates are falling every year near Suncor’s and Syncrude’s facilities… ‘This amount of bitumen released in a pulse would be equivalent to a major oil spill, repeated annually,’ the report says.”

More at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europe/emergency-crews-struggle-to-clear-toxic-sludge-in-hungary/article1744772/, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/europe/hungarys-toxic-sludge-reaches-danube/article1746837/, http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/World/20101006/hungary-sludge-flood-101006/ and http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=2395.

In ‘Northern Lifeblood’, Nathan Lemphers of the Pembina Institute writes about the regulations of tar sands tailing dams and their emergency planning measures. He highlights the complete lack of transparency around emergency planning in the event a tailings dam breaches. That’s on pages 19-24 at http://www.pembina.org/pub/2051.