- Robin des Bois - http://www.robindesbois.org/en -

Red Mud

An ecological meddling is necessary in Hungary. The red mud from Ajka contains notably significant levels of sulphur (around 3,000 mg / kg), chromium (600 mg / kg), nickel (200 mg / kg), arsenic (100 mg / kg) and mercury (1 mg / kg). The spreading of red mud presents health risks for the population that cannot be considered as minor. To give an order of magnitude, if one considers that half of the substance was spilt on farmlands covering an area of 5,000 hectares, then each hectare would be covered by approximately 500 tons of waste.

According to the aluminum lobby, dewatered and “neutralized” red mud could be used as soil improvements. In this case red mud will have poisoning consequences and will act like a delayed action bomb across the food chain. Moreover, considering the characteristics of this red mud and if one take into account the large variations of bauxite ore, one should not rule out the possibility of other waste having been stored in the sludge ponds.

The make shift work and the unorganised reactions by the plant operators and Hungarian authorities and their unclear projects are paving an uncertain and worrying future for the Hungarian populations in the North-West of the country, for the quality of surface and groundwater and on agricultural activities and cattle. As a European Union member state which will hold the EU presidency in January 2011 Hungary cannot remain without guidelines or without an immediate rehabilitation plan and a follow up in the long-term of the affected areas.

Hungary sought and obtained EU funds in the environmental protection scope however it is not sure that these funds are used in the appropriate way. Hungary must immediately take decisions to repair the damage caused by the red mud disaster. This work should be carried out under the Polluter-Pays principle described in the European Directive on extractive activities. On this note the priority actions are:

– The stripping of the red mud from farmlands and natural environment, and their confinement in a specific storage area.
– The regrouping of green waste, rubble and larger waste tainted by the red mud.
– The formal prohibition of open air incineration of flood related waste.

This type of accident could happen in all countries *. Levees breaking open and releasing toxic waste into the environment or liquid masses likely to flood the environment or built up areas occurs, in most cases, during or after periods of heavy rain, snow melting and other exceptional climatic events. In the case of this old reservoir rupture, the delayed consequences of heavy rains in May and June 2010 affected regions in Hungary which today are heavily impacted by this industrial disaster; unfortunately at the time and proceeding this natural event of heavy rains no alarm was trigged, let alone warning procedures and appropriate information for residents.

Link to the press release “Red Mud in Hungary: A Predictable, International and Major Disaster” October 6th 2010.
*See (in French):
– ARIA information sheet : 36208 (France, 11, Salsigne), 37980 (Kazakhstan), 33000 (France, 49, Beaupréau), 31750 (China), 28364 (USA), 26764 (France, 11, Narbonne), 21631 (France, 90, Eloie), 17425 (Roumania), 12831 (Spain), 7470 (France, 46, Saint-Denis-Catus), 7202 (Guyana), 17265 (Roumania).
– Report « Les déchets de la tempête Xynthia » (“Waste and the Xynthia Strom”) (pdf 111 pages – 8 Mo) published by Robin des Bois – September 2010