The eastern European country of Hungary recently suffered an unprecedented ecological disaster: a noxious flood of chemical sludge. On October 4, 2010, a dam holding liquid waste from an aluminum-processing facility failed, allowing 35 million cubic feet of red sludge to be released. Several people died and about 250 were hospitalized or received medical treatment as a result, as nearby villages and fields were inundated with toxic mud. Although the Hungarian government declared the sludge “not poisonous,” it contained heavy metals and was highly alkaline (as opposed to acidic), which can cause severe chemical burns.
For days, firefighters, police, soldiers, and volunteer emergency workers labored round-the-clock to remove the red sludge from houses, yards, streets, and farmland. Despite the dire situation, officials of the Hungarian Disaster Management Agency were optimistic at first that the toxic sludge would not reach the Danube River, only 28 miles from the village worst affected. Hungary called on the international community to send experts on toxic pollution to help with monitoring the contamination and cleaning up the damage.
As the chemical flood poured downhill, it threatened area waterways. First it killed marine life in the Marcal River. Within days of the accident, the liquid entered the Danube River, posing a much wider ecological disaster. By then, the pH content had declined, however, and no dead fish were reported. A preliminary investigation indicates “human error” as the general cause of the accident. A week after the dam’s break, the plant’s managing director was arrested and charged with “criminal negligence leading to a public catastrophe.”
- “Redsludge” Tragedy
This official Hungarian government Web site provides updates on the disaster; includes videos, photos, maps.
(Source: Government of Hungary; accessed October 29, 2010)
- Toxic Sludge Carpets Homes in Hungary
This report by the BBC covers the environmental disaster that threatened the Danube River; includes links to related stories and photos.
(Source: BBC News, October 8, 2010)
- Aerial Photos
Aerial photos showing the damages from the “red sludge.” Web site text is in Hungarian.
(Source: Légifelvételek az átszakadt gátról, October 5, 2010)
Other Issues in the Region
Turmoil in the Balkans
After the former Yugoslavia split into six republics (Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia), separatists in the province of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. More than two years later, Serbia and other key European nations have not recognized Kosovo as an independent country. The few countries in the region who recognize its independence have suffered weakened relationships with Serbia, who recalled its ambassador from Montenegro in early 2010 over the dispute.
- Serbia-Kosovo Diplomatic War Rumbles On
Several key nations have yet to recognize Kosovo independence. These include the economic powerhouses of China and India, as well as Spain, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until mid-2010. In late 2009, the International Court of Justice agreed to examine Serbia’s case that Kosovo’s claim to independence is invalid.
(Source: EurActiv; accessed April 26, 2010)
Cleaning Up Europe
Pollution of the air and waterways is a serious problem in Europe. The pollution comes from many sources, including business, industry, the farming community, and ordinary citizens who use and discard household products. All of these individuals and groups must now work together to find a solution, improve conditions, and prevent further damage.
- Emissions of air pollutants down in EU-27
The annual report of the European Environment Agency shows pollution levels in the European Union were lower in 2007 than in the previous year: emissions of the three main pollutants that cause ground-level ozone—carbon monoxide (CO), nonmethane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—all were down substantially, as were levels of sulphur oxides (SOx).
(Source: European Environment Agency, August 21, 2009)
The European Union has its origins in 1951, when France and what was then West Germany signed a treaty with four other nations creating the European Coal and Steel Community. Subsequent treaties involved more nations, leading eventually to the signing of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union. Differences in size and power among EU members and candidates have created problems in expanding the EU, most notably in drafting a constitution. But both old and new member countries are cautiously optimistic about unification.
- Can the European Union survive the debt crisis?
In the face of a serious debt crisis, the EU’s cohesiveness is being destabilized. In recent years, European nations have overcome national differences to create a powerful economic bloc, but momentum may be building among EU nations to drop the euro as a common currency.
(Source: Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 2010)