Friday, October 8, 2010

Eco-Friday: The Red Deadly Spill

We haven’t even closed the covers on the eco-disaster that was BP’s Gulf Oil Spill that another toxic spill spread death over the Hungarian plain.

A (perhaps) poorly built dam overfilled with alumina residuum from a plant in Ajka cracked and crumbled on Monday. Hence, almost 35 mil cubic feet of toxic red sludge covered the nearby town of Kolontar and its surroundings. Mass media reports on the spill’s victims and ecological impact reached the top searches on Google news by Wednesday. The spill made 7 human victims, hurt another hundred and killed countless animals as well as all life in the Marcal River one of Danube’s tributary rivers. The media frenzy reached its climax as it became clearer that the Danube’s unique ecosystems were threaten beyond the Hungarian border ( a potential regional conflict maybe?).

Fortunately the efforts of the Hungarian emergency services and locals were able to stop most of the toxic sludge from reaching the Danube. Whilst there were official reports of dead fish on the Hungarian territory, no other country downstream did report any toxic dangers – a sign that the rich flow of the river diluted the toxic sludge spilling in quite fast.

Of course the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company or MAL, which owns the reservoir, denied any wrongdoing and invested a ‘generous’ $150,000 in cleaning.

Yet, there is one notable aspect of the toxic red sludge spill that struck me. The impact on the social media when compared to the Oil Spill’s impact. I can recall the countless tweets and blog posts and poems wrote after the Oils Spill. Is the impact of millions of cubic feet of toxic alumina residuum less dangerous for our eco-system than the millions of cubic feet of crude spilled in the Gulf. I dare to say: “No, it is not”.

Even if the spill has not affected the Danube to the extent that we had feared. It affected a large area, two cities, farms, crops… It destroyed a river’s ecosystem. Human lives are lost. Human livelihoods are lost. People will not be able to return to their houses and crops that are now red toxic mud for a long, long time. And the cleanup will cost millions.

Even though once the dam broke and the spill occurred, the dam may no longer be a source for other spills. But there are other dams …much more than deep water oil rigs. In fact, as Diamond notes in “Collapse” – pollution from metal mining and manufacturing  refining residues is more common than the pollution resulted from coal mining and crude extraction. He also noted that we are less aware of the effects when metal mining and manufacturing are involved. But why?

Why did the red spill have less impact on social media. Too little time passed since it occurred? Is it the area of impact? No big tourism, no ‘mediatized suffering’ Louisiana…Is it about the people- more private small city, central Europeans perhaps? Is it that MAL is not big oil BP …?

  In my opinion it is a little bit from each of the above, but I would really like to hear your thoughts in the matter … (well, to be more precise , I would like to read them, so please do post comments).



10/8/2010- Hungary calms Danube sludge fears at

Deutsche Welle
10/7/2010 -Dead fish found in Hungary's Danube after toxic spill at
 Authors Darren Mara, Gabriel Borrud (Reuters/AFP/dpa). Editor : Nancy Isenson.

10/6/2010 -Eyewitness: Hungary's toxic spill at

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