Hungary toxic sludge reaches Danube branch

Caustic red mud spill that killed four people has reached Mosoni-Danube, branch of Europe’s second longest river

AP image

Mark Tran

A toxic red mud spill that killed four people in western Hungary has reached the Mosoni-Danube, a southern branch of the Danube, Hungarian disaster officials said today.

Tibor Dobson of Hungary’s national disaster unit told Reuters the spill reached the branch of Europe’s second-longest river near Hungary’s border with Slovakia and Austria this morning.

But Dobson said the highly caustic slurry has been reduced to the point where it is unlikely to cause further damage to the environment. The pH level of the sludge, originally above 12, is now under 10, he said. However, a harmless level is between 6 and 8.

There are fears that the toxic torrent will cause serious ecological damage to the Danube after being carried downstream by tributaries. The sludge is expected to reach the river by the weekend or early next week.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, who visited one of three villages inundated by red sludge, today declared one area a write-off.

Orban said he sees “no sense” in rebuilding in an area made uninhabitable by the torrent that poured from a breached reservoir at a nearby alumina factory on Monday.

Local officials in Kolontar say 34 houses in the village of about 800 were so badly damaged by the slurry that they cannot be refurbished. Orban spoke after an unannounced dawn visit to Kolontar.

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