The Mother Nature Network is reporting that the red toxic waste that flooded several Hungarian towns has killed at least four, injured 120 and left another three people missing. The flood came from a broken sludge reservoir at a Hungarian aluminum plant. It remains unknown why the reservoir failed. It was inspected just two weeks before the disaster, and no problems were found.
The acidic toxic sludge ate through clothes and left residents of the town suffering from chemical burns and respiratory ailments. According to NPR, Hungarian officials have launched a criminal investigation into the toxic sludge spill.
Toxic Spill in Hungary Threatens Danube
The sludge released in the spill is toxic if swallowed and is extremely alkaline, causing severe burns to skin. As the toxic sludge flood neared the Danube River, emergency workers donned respirators and hazmat gear as they poured thousands of tons of plaster in hopes of stopping the red menace. If the spill reaches the Danube, one of Europe’s main waterways, it could spell ecological disaster for dozens of European nations. The disaster could also affect the ecology of the Black Sea, into which the Danube empties.
Toxic Spill in Hungary Feared One of Worst Environmental Disasters in Decades
The European Union fears the spill could turn into one of the worst ecological disasters on record. NPR reports that Greenpeace spokesman Herwit Schuster has called the incident “one of the top three environmental disasters in Europe in the last 20 or 30 years.”
What is the Red Sludge?
The red sludge flowing through the Hungarian countryside is produced as a byproduct of bauxite refining. Bauxite is broken down into alumina, which is the basic material in aluminum. The toxic sludge byproduct is treated after manufacturing and stored in giant holding ponds. Over time, the water evaporates from the sludge, leaving red-colored, clay-like soil full of heavy metals. The flood occurred before the sludge had a chance to become a solid.
The sludge spill reminds us that ecological disasters can happen at any time and devastate the environment and people’s lives.
The Aral Sea Disappears into a Toxic Dust Cloud
Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, approximately the size of Ireland, the Aral Sea is now a salty desert wasteland. According to the Telegraph UK, the disappearance of the Aral Sea is considered “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.” The sea began shrinking in the 1960s when the Soviets began diverting water to boost cotton production. Lost along with the wildlife-teeming waters has been the lucrative fishing industry. The Aral Sea’s ecosystem has been almost completely destroyed.
According to the Journal of Rural and Remote Environmental Health, the Aral’s soil is also highly contaminated with toxic chemicals from weapons testing, pesticides, fertilizer runoff and industrial projects. The toxic salty sand left behind causes health problems as it is inhaled when winds churn it into the air. People in the area have high rates of cancer, lung diseases, tuberculosis, digestive disorders, anemia, infectious diseases, liver problems, kidney disease and eye disorders. The area also has a high child mortality rate.
Chernobyl Sends Radioactive Cloud Over Europe
On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded, sending 400 times more radioactive material into the air than the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII. According to Time, Chernobyl is the worst nuclear power disaster in history. The radioactive fallout from the disaster has been found all over Europe. Immediately following the disaster, 31 people died from acute radiation sickness. In addition, thousands of children have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer as a result of the fallout. Radiation has also affected the food supply and contaminated groundwater.
Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
On April 20, 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and injuring an additional 17 people. According to Chemical & Engineering News, the three-month flow of oil was finally staunched on July 15, when the wellhead was successfully capped. All told, approximately 4.9 million barrels, or 185 million gallons, of oil, were released into the waters of the Gulf. Although the full environmental impact of the disaster has yet to be determined, it is clear that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will have implications for decades to come.
Will the toxic spill in Hungary have the lasting environmental impact of other disasters? Only time will tell, but the toxic sludge flood does have the potential to be extremely devastating, both to human health and to the ecology of Europe.