Thursday

13th May 2021

EU sends experts as Hungary braces for second leak of toxic sludge

A team of European experts flew to Hungary on Monday (11 October), as the EU member state braces itself for a second toxic spill from an aluminium plant located in the west of the country.

Emergency workers are racing to build a protective ring of rock and earth across fields just below a factory reservoir that holds the toxic bi-product material, amid warnings that a second breach is set to release a new torrent of the red sludge through the area.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The sludge has swept through villages and towns, causing widespread damage (Photo: friedrich glorian)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Sunday that a new spill was "very likely," while environment minister Zoltan Illes described it as inevitable.

With the country still struggling to come to terms with the damage caused earlier this month when the reservoir burst, Mr Orban's centre-right government last week issued an appear for help from the EU's Civil Protection Mechanism.

The resulting five-man team of European experts from France, Belgium, Sweden, Austria and Germany is set to start work on Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

Tasks will include an impact assessment of damage caused to local wildlife and water, together with suggestions on how to decontaminate the sludge in urban and agricultural areas.

The pollution hit-squad will be brought directly to the city of Ajka where the aluminium plant is located, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will discuss the issue in Budapest with Mr Orban on Tuesday as part of an previously arranged visit.

Mr Orban has said that those responsible for the disaster will bear the financial consequences, with the chief executive of the industrial plant, Zoltan Bakonyi, taken into police custody on Monday for questioning. The government has also announced the temporary nationalisation of the company until the crisis is over.

Commission officials in Brussels say they will come forward new proposals later this month to tackle similar accidents in the future, but appeared to rule out Hungarian support from the European Social Fund.

A spokesman said the social fund covered costs incurred by public bodies after a 'natural catastrophe'. "There is [also] a threshold only above which a member can apply," said regional policy spokesman Ton van Lierop. "For Hungary, it would be €591 million. To the best of our information, this threshold would not be met," he added.

Seven people died after the reservoir burst on 4 October, releasing an estimated 700,000 cubic metres of toxic sludge that wreaked havoc in villages and towns.

More than 120 people were hospitalised with burns, with hundreds of families currently evacuated from the area.

Kerry resets climate relations before Glasgow summit

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy, was in Brussels to discuss how to tackle climate change with the European Commission. His appearance also marked a major shift in relations after the previous US administration under Donald Trump.

Commission: Pioneering Nordics' energy mix 'example' to EU

The Nordic electricity market is an example of successful market integration plus climate action, as the share of sustainable energy keeps growing, the European Commission said. However, the decarbonisation of the transport sector remains a challenge.

Investigation

How Energy Treaty 'shadow' courts prolong EU's fossil age

The treaty enables companies to claim billions in compensation from states in front of international arbitration tribunals, if they feel unfairly treated by the states' energy or climate policies.

Feature

Adriatic Sea 'risks turning into a water desert'

The Adriatic Sea risks turning into a water desert, experts warn. Overfishing, bottom trawling, pollution, and climate change are seriously threatening the biodiversity of the Adriatic.

EU's 2021 fishing quotas to exceed scientific advice

EU minister for fisheries have agreed on fishing opportunities for 2021, with provisional quotas for the fish stocks shared with the UK. However, experts warned that some of these quotas will lead to overfishing "with detrimental effects on fish populations".

News in Brief

  1. No EUobserver newsletter on Friday 14 May
  2. Germany stops Facebook gathering WhatsApp data
  3. Italy rebuts reports of EU deal with Libya
  4. MEPs demand EU states protect women's reproductive rights
  5. At least nine dead in Russia school shooting
  6. Bulgaria interim government appointed until July election
  7. German priests defy pope to bless same-sex couples
  8. New EU public prosecutor faults Slovenia

EU faces long wait for full vaccine supplies

The EU is still several months away from having enough vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people, with Pfizer and BioNTech, its principle suppliers, aiming for September for delivery targets.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU aims at 'zero pollution' in air, water and soil by 2050
  2. French police arrest Luxembourg former top spy
  3. Vaccine drives spur better-than-expected EU economic recovery
  4. Slovenia causing headaches for new EU anti-graft office
  5. 'No place to hide' in Gaza, as fighting escalates
  6. EU chases 90m AstraZeneca vaccines in fresh legal battle
  7. Fidesz MEP oversees FOI appeals on disgraced Fidesz MEP
  8. Belgium outlines summer Covid relaxation plans

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us