In 2010, Hungary felt one of the biggest European environmental crises in the last decade. The country was forced to declare a state of emergency in three western counties after a dam holding back a gigantic reservoir filled with toxic red sludge burst.
Killing four people in the process and injuring over hundred others, the officials called the toxic sludge an ecological catastrophe. The red sludge is waste produced during aluminum manufacture in Ajkai Timföldgyár alumina plant, in western Hungary.
An industrial accident at a caustic waste reservoir swept cars off roads and damaged bridges and homes, forcing the evacuation of 400 residents. At least 7,000 people are thought to have been directly affected by the spill.
On 4 October, 2010, the northwestern corner of the dam of reservoir no. 10 collapsed, freeing about a million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of liquid waste from red mud lakes. The sludge poured out when a dam at the reservoir of the Ajkai Timföldgyár alumina plant, owned by MAL, broke after days of heavy rain.
Government intervention and measures
The mud was released as a 1–2 m (3–7 ft) wave, flooding several nearby localities. Seven towns, including Kolontal, Devecser and Somlovasarhely, have been affected near the plant in Ajka, 100 miles south-west of Budapest.
Red sludge is a byproduct of the refining of bauxite into alumina, the basic material for manufacturing aluminum. Treated sludge is often stored in ponds where the water eventually evaporates. There is thought to be about 30 million tone of red mud stored around the Ajkai Timföldgyár plant. It was not initially clear how the containment at the reservoir had been breached, although the accident came after a particularly wet summer in Hungary, as in other parts of central Europe.
Nearly 500 police officers and soldiers, including six emergency detection teams, had been deployed to contain the crisis. The spill reached the Danube on October 7, 2010, making the environment worries international. Plaster has been poured into the Marcal River in a bid to bind the sludge and stop further flooding. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claimed that the cause of the spill was presumably human error.