Its origins are as follows: An aluminum manufacturing company, once run by communists and since privatized, has been storing one of the byproducts of the aluminum production process—red toxic sludge—in giant artificial storage ponds near beautiful little Hungarian villages. It all seemed to work well enough, until today:
Just after noon on Monday, a corner of the sludge reservoir broke, sending toxic goo into the surrounding countryside, turning four prosperous, picturesque villages into red-tinged towns out of science-fiction horror films. The mud drowned at least four people and sent more than 100 to hospitals with burns, caused by a highly alkaline caustic substance. Sixteen square miles of land are covered in the muck, hundreds of residents suffered mild burns or lung irritations, and countless animals succumbed.
Residents here are still waiting for Hungarian officials to release their analysis of the sludge’s exact chemical content. A dangerous pollutant at best because of its caustic nature, red mud from aluminum production can contain heavy metals and low-level radioactivity, ingredients that can cause health problems like cancer and produces long-term contamination of the environment.
The sludge poured into local streams, which now all appeared to be tinted with henna, and is moving downstream at about 1 kilometer and hour. It is headed for the Raba River, which empties into the Danube. It has already killed all the river life in the local rivers and streams but threatens a broad international environmental disaster if high concentrations of the sludge get downstream.
What's further downstream? Slovakia and Bulgaria for starters.