The toxic red sludge that inundated three Hungarian villages reached Europe’s mighty Danube River on Thursday but no immediate damage was evident, Hungary’s rescue operations agency said.
The European Union and environmental officials had feared an environmental catastrophe affecting half a dozen nations if the red sludge, a waste product of making aluminum, contaminated Europe’s second-longest river after bursting out of a factory’s reservoir.
The spill on Monday released a toxic torrent into local creeks that flow into a network of waterways connected to the Danube. Creeks in Kolontar, the closest town to the spill site, were swollen red and villagers said they were devoid of fish. Kolontar is 42 miles (70 kilometers) south of the Danube.
The red sludge reached the western branch of the Danube early on Thursday, Hungarian rescue agency spokesman Tibor Dobson told the state MTI news agency. He did not address concerns that the caustic slurry might contain toxic metals but said its pH content had been reduced to the point where it was unlikely to cause further damage to the environment.
Dobson said the pH content, originally above 12, was now under 10 and no dead fish had been spotted where the slurry was entering the Danube. The National Disaster Management Directorate, in a separate statement, said the pH value was at 9.3 and constantly decreasing.
South of Hungary, the 2,850 kilometer Danube flows through Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova before emptying into the Black Sea. After Hungary, the Danube flows into the Croatian village of Batina, where experts were taking water samples on Thursday which they will repeat daily for the next week, the state-run news agency HINAS reported.
In Romania, water levels were reported safe Thursday, with testing being carried out every three hours, said Romanian Waters spokeswoman Ana Maria Tanase. She said the Danube water had a PH of 8.5, which was within normal levels, but tests were being done to check for heavy metals.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday visited the three villages coated by the red sludge and declared the worst-hit area ‘a write-off’. Orban said he sees “no sense” in rebuilding in the same location.
Local officials said 34 homes in the village were unlivable. However, furious residents said the disaster had destroyed the whole community by making their land valueless.
Angry villagers gathered outside the mayor’s office in Kolontar late Wednesday and berated a senior official of MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company that owns the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant, demanding compensation.
“The whole settlement should be bulldozed into the ground,” bellowed Janos Potza. “There’s no point for anyone to go back home.”
“Those who can, will move out of Kolontar. From now on, this is a dead town,” fumed Beata Gasko Monek.