Sludge doing little harm to Danube

2010-10-08 15:47

Kolontar - The mighty Danube was apparently absorbing Hungary's massive toxic red sludge spill with little immediate harm, officials reported on Friday, even though the amount of caustic slurry spewed over the western part of the country was nearly as great as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Revising even higher earlier estimates, government officials said the reservoir break at an aluminium plant on Monday dumped between 600 000 to 700 000 cubic metres of sludge onto three villages, not less than the thousands of litres the blown-out BP oil well gushed into the Gulf over several months starting in April.

Philip Weller, who heads the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube,said: "The consequences do not seem to be that dramatic."
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the threat to the Danube had been eliminated.

"We managed to take control of the situation in time," he said. 

But the risk of pervasive and lasting environmental damage remained, with laboratory analyses organised by Greenpeace showing high concentrations of toxic substances in samples of the sludge.

Greenpeace told reporters in Vienna that the samples taken a day after the spill showed "surprisingly high" levels of arsenic and mercury. The analysis suggested that roughly 50 tons of arsenic, 300 tons of chrome and half a ton of mercury was set free by the spill, Greenpeace officials told reporters in Vienna on Thursday.

Greenpeace officials said the detected arsenic concentration was twice the amount normally found in so-called red mud. Analysis of water in a canal near the spill also found arsenic levels 25 times the limit for drinking water.

With rain giving way to dry, warmer weather over the past two days, the caustic mud is increasingly turning to airborne dust, which can cause respiratory problems, said Hungary's state secretary for the environment, Zoltan Illes.