Friday 24 November 2017

Fears grow over new deluge of toxic red sludge

Pablo Gorondi in Kolontar

THE wall of a reservoir filled with caustic red sludge will inevitably collapse and unleash a new deluge of the toxic liquid, the Hungarian government said last night.

A spokesman said that the poisonous tide could flow about a kilometre to the north.

That would flood parts of the town already hit by the industrial waste last week, but stop short of the next town to the north.

Environmental state secretary Zoltan Illes said recently discovered cracks on the northern wall of the reservoir at the alumina plant have temporarily stopped widening because of favourable weather conditions but will continue to expand, especially at night.

Disaster agency spokesman Tibor Dobson said engineers hadn't detected any new cracks overnight, and the older cracks were being repaired, but that it was too soon to consider lowering the current state of alert.

Protective walls were being built around the reservoir's damaged area to hold back any further spills and a 620-metre-long dam was under construction to save the areas of the town of Kolontar not directly hit by last Monday's disaster, when three villages were flooded within an hour.

Nearly all of Kolontar's 800 residents were evacuated on Saturday, when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the north wall of the massive storage pool was "very likely" to collapse after cracks were detected at several points along the dam.

Red sludge is a byproduct of the refining of bauxite into alumina, the basic material for manufacturing aluminum.

Treated sludge is often stored in ponds where the water eventually evaporates, leaving behind a largely safe red clay.

Industry experts said the sludge in Hungary appeared to have been insufficiently treated, if at all, meaning it remained highly caustic.

Irish Independent

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