Tuesday 24 April 2018

Toxic spill boss arrested as PM claims 'negligence'

Matthew Day in Warsaw

The managing director of the company at the centre of Hungary's toxic spill was arrested yesterday as the country's prime minister said the disaster was the result of negligence.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said there was evidence that company employees had ignored the "dangerously weakened" state of the walls and had hoped they could get away with not repairing them.

He also called for the company to come under state control and for its assets to be frozen until an investigation had run its course.

"We have good reason to believe there were people who were aware of the dangerously weakened state of the walls of the reservoirs, but driven by their private interests they believed they were not worth repairing and hoped that the trouble could be avoided," the prime minister told parliament.

He said he believed the disaster was caused by "human negligence".

Authorities have stepped up their investigation into the tragedy that killed eight and left 120 injured when a tidal wave of toxic red sludge coursed through villages after a breach in a storage reservoir run by the Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company (MAL) near the western town of Ajka.

Zoltan Bakonyi, the managing director of MAL, was arrested on suspicion of public endangerment and environmental damage.

Zoltan Illes, the Hungarian environment minister, warned that MAL could face a fine of up to €73m if it had broken the law.

"We still don't know whether the company overloaded the reservoirs or not. But if that is the case, it's illegal storage of waste and that constitutes a crime," he said.

Mr Illes said environmental damage to the area's water systems alone could amount to €36.5m.

MAL issued a statement saying that it had "strictly observed technical regulations".

It said it had presented regular reports on the site's condition to the authorities.

Emergency workers were yesterday racing to complete three new dams after Mr Illes said that another collapse was "inevitable". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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