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Hungary suffers ‘ecological tragedy’ as aluminum mining sludge reaches Danube

Toxic red sludge, a waste product of aluminum production, has reached Europe’s Danube River after a spill at a Hungarian factory drowned four people and left over a hundred injured, many with chemical burns. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences says tests show that heavy metals in the Danube due to the spill are currently far from dangerous levels, however other rivers, villages, and farmlands have been devastated by the environmental disaster which released approximately a million cubic meters of sludge over 50 square kilometers.

“Life in the Marcal River has been extinguished,” Hungarian rescue agency spokesman Tibor Dobson told the Associated Press (AP). The Marcal River flows into the Raba River, which eventually reaches the Danube, Europe’s second longest river and an important water source for many Europeans. Rescue workers are dumping acids and calcium sulphate into affected waters to neutralize the sludge’s alkalinity and bind the material.

Three villages in western Hungary were also flooded with the red sludge, sometimes reaching up to 2 meters in height as it swept out from the reservoir. Parts of Kolonar, the worst hit village, will likely have to be abandoned according to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who toured the village today. He said that ruined houses should remain for “posterity”.

Obran has labeled the disaster an “ecological tragedy”, while a spokesperson for Greenpeace International told the AP that the spill is in the top 3 environmental disasters in Europe over the past few decades.

While the mining and processing of aluminum, one of the world’s most popular metals, can lead to a number of environmental issues—including deforestation, water and energy use, and pollution—the material itself is 100 percent recyclable without any loss in its physical properties.

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