Hungarians at health risk

Villagers return to town after toxic sludge flows through area

By: Elise Favis

The aluminum plant in Hungary that caused red toxic sludge to flood western parts of the country has reopened as of last Friday.

According to CNN, the death toll has risen to nine people, with more than 120 injured.

The disaster was caused when the waste reservoir’s dam failed, releasing 700,000 cubic metres of toxic waste, which then flowed through Kolontar and neighbouring villages. Europe’s second largest river, the Danube, was also polluted by the sludge. Officials state that this is the worst chemical incident in the country to date.

Villagers were evacuated as a precaution, and only recently have they begun to return home. State officials gave permission to villagers to resettle, regardless of warnings from environmentalists, who claim the area still may not be safe. Hundreds of villagers boarded buses just 11 days after the tragedy, returning to the small, red-stained village of Kolontar.

“Villagers would be allowed to return to Kolontar from midday, and were advised to wear a dust mask at all times,” Gyorgyi Tottos, a spokeswoman for disaster crews, said to Reuters.

The aluminum plant, owned by the firm MAL Zrt, will now be controlled and supervised by government officials for two years. Emergency barriers have been constructed around the reservoir, which is holding back another estimated 500,000 cubic metres of waste. This is in order to prevent the possibility of a second spill, reported Reuters.

The state commissioner from the plant’s operations told the BBC that, “It will take a maximum four days for the plant to go back to normal operation. Next Tuesday [Oct. 19] production will be up to full capacity.”

The cause for the spill is still unclear. Police are investigating whether the owners of the aluminum plant knew about the possibility of the reservoir’s dam collapsing, or whether they were following standard safety regulations.
The plant’s CEO was detained in custody for interrogation, but has now been released, stated CNN.

Greenpeace urges that the aluminum plant should be shut down, due to the uncertain amount of environmental damage it may cause. The organization disagrees with Hungary’s decision to allow villagers to return to their homes, due to the health risks that may result.

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