Friday, October 8, 2010

Ajka Alumina Plant Accident

A reservoir containing red mud of an alumina factory near
Ajka, Hungary, dated 24 August 2006. E EPA/Sandor H. Szabo
On 4 October 2010, toxic red mud burst from a giant storage reservoir at an alumina refinery on the outskirts of Ajka, Hungary.  The flood, estimated at about 700,000 cubic meters (24m cubic feet), caused extensive damage. Thus far, seven people have died, and more than 120 people injured by the sludge when it covered the villages of Kolontar, Devecser and Somlovasarhely. Already clean-up operations are underway, with more than 500 police and military personnel on the scene, as well as specialized rescue personnel.

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
After the spill, the red mud quickly found it's way into the nearby Marcal river, and as the chief of Hungary's disaster relief services put it, all life in that waterway had been "extinguished." By Thursday, 7 October, the red mud, flowing in the Marcal had reached the Danube. Emergency workers poured huge quantities of plaster and acetic acid into the Marcal and other effected waterways to try and neutralize the PH, and the Prime Minister attempted to downplay the effects the spill would have on the Danube. However, it is probably still to early too tell what effects the red mud will have on the Danube.

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.


  1. Oh no! What a tragedy. This news is certainly upsetting. I hope the best for all Hungarians affected.

  2. Best of luck to all those people, they will be in my prayers

  3. When will we become a responsible people and stand up to these life and environment destroying practices? We must stop being sheep chasing the dollar and instead of profit do things for the betterment of everyone.

    This is a sad story indeed.


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