After streaming through and contaminating smaller rivers and streams, toxic sludge from a Hungarian factory has now reached the Danube River.
The Danube is Europe’s second-largest river and experts from the European Union (EU) fear that if the toxic red sludge contaminates the Danube it could affect half a dozen nations.
The toxic sludge is a waste product created in the production of aluminum. Three villages in Hungary were flooded by this toxic sludge when it broke through its reservoir on Monday. At least four people have been killed (they were reportedly burned to death from the toxic sludge), three are missing, 11 are in the hospital in critical condition, and over 150 have been injured. But it could have been much worse.
“If this had happened at night then everyone here would have died,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. “This is so irresponsible that it is impossible to find words!”
“Some people described it like a mini tsunami,” said Joe Lowry of the International Federation of the Red Cross. “It covered two kilometers from the plant to the village in about 30 minutes, a wall of mud two meters high.”
The toxic sludge is corrosive and can burn one’s skin and irritate one’s eyes.
The toxic sludge may threaten the drinking water of millions of Europeans, according to Payal Sampat of Earthworks. Officials from Hungary (see below) say that is unlikely.
Is the Danube Too Large to be Affected by the Toxic Sludge?
Quite simply, officials are hoping there will be a minimal effect beyond what has already happened due to the shear size and volume of the Danube. For some reason, I that doesn’t make me feel much better about the disaster.
The toxic sludge has wiped out the life in smaller rivers completely. “Life in the Marcal River has been extinguished,” Hungarian rescue agency spokesman Tibor Dobson said.
However, Dobson told the state MTI news agency that the pH content of the toxic sludge had dropped a lot by the time it started seeping into the Danube, that environmental damage there was unlikely, and that no one has spotted dead fish in the Danube yet.
The Danube goes through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova and then merges into the Black Sea.
What Caused the Toxic Sludge to Break Through the Reservoir?
Ironically, the toxic sludge broke through the reservoir one week after environmental authorities in Hungary declared it safe. No one is sure yet why the reservoir broke.
The government has opened a criminal investigation looking into the cause of the spill.