Hungary on high alert as toxic sludge spill kills four
Hungary declared a state of emergency in three counties yesterday after a flood of toxic red sludge from an alumina plant engulfed several towns and burned people through their clothes.
The toll rose to four dead, six missing and at least 120 people injured after a reservoir failed on Monday at the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant in Ajka, a town 160km southwest of Budapest.
Several hundred tons of plaster were being poured into the Marcal River to bind the toxic sludge and prevent it from flowing on, the National Disaster Management Directorate said.
About 1 million cubic metres of sludge had leaked from the reservoir, affecting an estimated 40 square kilometres, Environmental Affairs State Secretary Zoltan Illes said.
Mr Illes called the flood an "ecological catastrophe" and said the sludge could reach the Raba and Danube rivers. He suspended activity at the plant and ordered the company to repair the damaged reservoir.
The disaster agency said 390 residents had to be temporarily relocated and 110 were rescued from the flooded towns. Firefighters and soldiers swept through the region yesterday carrying out clean-up tasks.
The sludge, a waste product in aluminum production, contains heavy metals and is toxic if ingested. Many of the injured sustained burns as the sludge seeped through their clothes, and two faced life-threatening conditions.
The injured were being monitored because the chemical burns caused by the sludge could take days to emerge and what may seem like superficial injuries could later cause damage to deeper tissue, Dr Peter Jakabos of Gyor hospital, where several of the injured were taken, told state television.