A reservoir containing red mud of an alumina factory near
Ajka, Hungary, dated 24 August 2006. E EPA/Sandor H. Szabo
The alkaline sludge, known colloquially as red mud, is the solid waste byproduct resulting from the processing of bauxite into alumina, which in turn is used principally in the making of aluminum. Red mud cannot be disposed of easily, so in those countries where red mud is produced, it is pumped into red mud ponds that are usually secured by earthen levee systems lined with plastic. The material is highly basic, with a PH from 10 to 13. Contact with the skin can lead to a severe reaction to the skin, but can be washed off with clean water.
A soldier wearing a chemical protection gear walks through
a street flooded by red mud in the town of Devecser,
Hungary. AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky
Officials are also concerned that toxins from the drying sludge could be spread through the air. Recent rainy weather has kept the red mud wet, but warmer, sunnier weather could dry out the sludge, creating toxic, and potentially low-level radioactive dust that could be blown into the atmosphere.