Red Sludge Spill in Hungary: One year after the accident

News & Media

Kolontár, 4 October 2010. A dam at a Hungarian aluminium factory near Kolontár broke. Approximately 1.5 million cubic metres of alkaline red sludge and water were released with disastrous consequences: 10 people died, hundreds of hectares of agricultural land were contaminated. One year after these events, we collected information on the current environmental conditions in the area. As an ongoing effort, the Accident Prevention and Control Expert Group of the ICPDR continues its work to avoid or mitigate such disasters in the future.

Status of reconstruction works

Settlements: Of the affected 360 houses, 306 had to be demolished, but new houses have been built in Kolontár (21) and Devecser (90). Devecser and Kolontár have been declared disadvantaged settlements, which means that the Government will continue to support the people living here.

Water ecosystems: The overall decontamination is finished. However, clean-up works are still ongoing in one section of Marcal River and Torna Creek. The dredging of Marcal River is nearly completed. Governmental officers declared that all contamination will be cleaned up by the end of September 2011. The Kolontár fish pond has already been decontaminated; around 20 000 cubic metres of red sludge were pulled out and additional 50 000 cubic metres of polluted water were removed from the pond.

Contaminated areas: Out of the contaminated area, 758 hectares were treated and decontaminated. According to the latest sampling, the soil is suitable for agricultural uses. In an area of 12 hectares, energy crops were planted (biomass plantation, mainly poplar). The plant analysis results showed that the area is suitable for fodder plantations.

The overall cleanup and associated operations reached a 95% extent by today.

Legal consequences

The company responsible for the disaster has received a record penalty: the Directorate of Environmental Protection and Water Management for Central Transdanubia has imposed a fine for infringement of waste management regulations of around HUF 135.14 billion (470 million Euros) on Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company (MAL Zrt.). Minister of State for Government Communication Zoltán Kovács said that the Directorate imposed the highest penalty possible, with regard to the scale of the disaster and the amount of pollutant released. According to the information from the official national press reconstruction works will be finished by the first year anniversary of the red sludge accident

Facts and Figures on the Accident:

Date: 4th October 2010

Type of accident: industrial accident at an alumina factory belonging to a privately owned company, Magyar Alumínium ZRt.

Human consequences: the disaster claimed ten lives, several hundred people were injured

Environmental Damages: Due to the ruptured dam of the sludge reservoir, a mixture of 1.5 - 1.6 Million m3 of red sludge and water inundated the lower sections of the settlements of Kolontar, Devecser and Somlovasarhely and surrounding areas

Three settlements were seriously damaged (Kolontár, Devecser and Somlóvásarhely) and additional 19 settlements in three counties have been contaminated. 360 houses were in some way affected by the disaster

Water ecosystems of Torna creek and Kolontár fish pond have been seriously contaminated and the Marcal-Rába rivers were also affected. The pollution plume also reached the Danube river but samples showed that no significant amount of pollution entered into the Danube.

Polluted area: the heavily alkaline material spreaded around 4000 hectares (out of this 1036 hectares were agricultural area).