On Monday a river of toxic sludge burst out of the reservoir of an aluminia factory in Hungary. The deadly mud is estimated to have covered an area of around 40 sq kms, killing at least 4 people and injuring 120. Three people are still missing. In the long term however, the environmental consequences of this spill are likely to be catastrophic. Scientists are already warning that the Danube could be affected.
According to Greenpeace, the 700,000 cubic metres of industrial waste contains lead, chrome and arsenic.
Sadly however, this is not the first such toxic spill. In January 2000 a decantation basin overflowed in Romania. 100,000 cubic metres of industrial waste containing cyanide flowed into local waterways. The authorities were slow to react, and the poisoned water flowed on until it polluted the Danube, right down to its delta region.
In 1998 an agricultural reservoir overflowed in Spain and 6 million cubic metres of acid water containing zinc and arsenic flooded the area. That time however the water was contained because the authorities threw up three dams to divert the river avoid widespread pollution.
The National Park of Doñana is a haven for migratory birds and other animals. The total cost to the taxpayer of the resulting legal proceedings and of a 3-year long decontamination programme was 240 million euros.