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The Kolontr Report

CAUSES AND LESSONS FROM THE RED MUD DISASTER

The Kolontr Report


CAUSES AND LESSONS FROM THE RED MUD DISASTER

Budapest, March 2011

Editor in Chief: Benedek Jvor


Editor: Mikls Hargitai

Contributors:
Dr. Jzsef dm
Gyrgy Bnvlgyi
Dr. Gyula Dura
Dr. Gyula Grenerczy
Dr. Nra Gubek
Dr. Ildik Gutper
Gergely Simon
Zsolt Szegfalvi
Dr. Andrs Szkcs
Prof. Dr. Jnos Szpvlgyi
Dr. Eszter Ujlaky
***
Department of Geodesy and Surveying at the Budapest
University of Technology and Economics (BME)
Satellite Geodetic Observatory of the Institute of Geodesy,
Cartography and Remote Sensing (FMI-KGO)
Research Group for Physical Geodesy and Geodynamics
at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) and
Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME)
Research Institute for Soil Science and Agricultural
Chemistry at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA)
Greenpeace Hungary
Clean Air Action Group

Contents
Foreword
Executive Summary

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1. Antecedents
1.1. Aluminium industry and alumina production in Hungary
1.2. Privatization in the aluminium industry
1.2.1. Selling the productive companies of the sector
1.2.2. Transferring environmental responsibilities
1.2.3. Omitting recultivation of the red mud reservoirs
1.3. Hazardous waste disposal
1.3.1. Hazardous waste in Hungary
1.3.2. Red mud disposal sites in Hungary
1.4. Technological deficiencies
1.4.1. The condition of the dam before the accident
1.4.2. Outdated technology at MAL Co. Ltd.
1.5. Civilian concerns and recommendations
1.6. Expert proposals
1.7. The role of the authorities
1.7.1. Dismantling the authorities
1.7.2. Lax authorities, lack of inspections
Summary
Recommendations

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2. An account of the accident


2.1. Chronology of the accident
2.2. Further risks
2.2.1. Another dam break
2.2.2. Resuming production without a change of technology
2.3. The health and environmental impacts of the disaster
2.3.1. The chemical background of the disaster
2.3.2. Environmental and health effects of the disaster
Summary, Recommendations

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3. Damage control
3.1. Actions by the authorities
3.2. Anomalies of central communication
3.3. The communication of MAL Co. Ltd.
3.4. Communication steps by LMP and social organizations
3.4.1. LMP
3.4.2. Clean Air Action Group, Greenpeace and other NGOs

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3.5. Assessment of the disaster management


Summary
Recommendations

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4. Contamination reports
4.1. Initial reports based on earlier tests
4.1.1. Statements of MAL. Co. Ltd.
4.1.2. Initial reports and statements of the National Public
Health and Medical Officer Service (NTSZ)
4.1.3. Initial MTA statements and results
in light of the Greenpeace investigation
4.2. Greenpeace test results
4.3. Water testing
4.3.1. Results from MTA (KFKI, MAFI, TAKI)
4.3.2. Test results from University of Pannonia
4.4. Air/dust test results
4.5. WHO and EU reports
4.5.1. WHO red mud report
4.5.2. EU experts red sludge report
4.6. Information on the presence of further pollutants
4.7. Evaluating the test results
4.7.1. Pollution of the areas land and water
4.7.2. Alkalinity
4.7.3. Air pollution
4.7.4. Confusing the population
4.7.5. Water pollution during the emergency
Summary
Recommendations

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5. Legislation
5.1. Overview of legislation in Europe and Hungary
5.1.1. The adoption and implementation of legislation
in the light of the environmental licenses of MAL Ltd.
5.1.2. The problem of the hazardous character of red mud waste
5.2. The licenses of MAL Co. Ltd. in the context
of the Mining Directive, IPPC and BAT regulations and Seveso II
5.3. The Role of Authorities
5.3.1. The dam break
5.3.2. Caustic effect and irritating nature of the spilled material
5.3.3. The extraordinary amount of material and financial
means to required for damage control
5.3.4. Other significant anomalies in the operation of the environmental protection
system (incentives for prevention and the means of damage control)
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5.4. Charges filed following the tragedy


5.4.1. Official and political charges
5.4.2. Charges by NGOs
5.5. Liability assessment
5.5.1. Liabilities of the authorities
5.5.2. Liabilities of MAL
5.5.3. The consequences of decisions made in the course of
damage control (impact of gypsum and hydrochloric acid)
5.6. Room for improvement in the regulatory environment
5.6.1. An assessment of the implementation and enforcement of EU regulations
5.6.2. Required regulatory changes
Summary
Recommendations

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6. International comparison
6.1. Alumina production in other parts of the world
6.2. Red mud storage methods
6.2.1. Red mud storage worldwide
6.2.2. Developments at MAL Co. Ltd. after the accident
6.3. Red mud utilisation worldwide
6.4. Similar major industrial accidents
6.4.1. Disasters worldwide
6.4.2. Disasters in Hungary
6.5. Environmental hazards, proposals of civil
and green organisations in other countries
6.6. Compensation after industrial disasters all over the world
Summary
Recommendations

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7. Long-term effects, further necessary measures


7.1. Future of impacted areas
7.2. Long-term health hazards
7.3. Long-term environmental impacts
7.3.1. Long-term effects to the soil
7.3.2. Long-term effects to waters
7.4. Long-term effects of the measures taken
7.5. Official evaluations (by the authorities, the EU and the WHO)
7.6. Further necessary measures
7.6.1. Biomonitoring of the population
7.6.2. Further necessary monitoring: water, dust, soil, groundwater
7.7. Risks of the continued operation

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8. Conclusion

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Sludge on the wall the rushing flood


reached the window tops

Foreword
It was 6th October, early in the afternoon. Wearing rubber boots covered knee deep in red
mud, we were standing in the main street of Kolontr with Simon Gergely, an expert working
for Clean Air Action Group. We had just finished an interview given to Al Jazeera Television
on the red mud disaster, and we were waiting for the broadcasting van to make contact with
the studio of ABC News. Everywhere around us, tree trunks, house walls and garden fences
were all stained waist high by the permanent trace of the flood which took place two days
before. Next to the railway, bulldozers were pulling apart the remains of what used to be the
bridge of the Torna creek, swept away by the flood. In the gardens, the professionals from
Disaster Management were trying to collect and remove red mud. It all looked hopeless for
no matter where you looked, the valley of Torna creek was covered with red mud. On Arany
Jnos street, vans of TV channels formed a line reaching as far as the cultural centre. They
were all there: the great press syndicates along with Austrian, German, French, Canadian,
American and Arabic television crews. The world was watching Kolontr.
By now, the first shock is gone. So are the crews. News programmes stopped broadcasting images of Kolontr and Devecser, but the attention that was focused on Hungary last
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October has not disappeared. The answers to all the questions raised then are still expected
by many. What caused the dam break? Could the disaster have been avoided? Had MAL Co.
Ltd. acted with due and proper care? Was monitoring on the part of authorities satisfactory?
Are the regulations governing activities with similar levels of risk suitable, are European
regulations sufficient? Who will pay for the compensation of damages and from what funds?
Neither domestic or international public opinion has received satisfying answers to a large
share of these questions so far. Information reported in the media was often contradictory.
Official bodies, NGOs, parties including LMP tried to answer a number of particular questions. An exhaustive study, however, has not yet been not provided to the public, and a proper
assessment of events calls for a thorough analysis of facts, causes and correlations. This was
encouraged by the delegation of the European Green Party visiting the disaster site one week
after the spill took place. The very idea of the present report was formed back then, and now
the report is offered to the reader as a result of the cooperation of the European Green Party,
LMP, NGOs and expert groups.

***
The Kolontr disaster was, without a doubt, one of the most severe environmental disasters
ever experienced in this country. Not only was it shocking because it left ten people dead, and injured one and a half hundred directly, leaving behind long term environmental and health impacts
which are currently impossible to assess. But it is especially depressing to face the events when
one realizes that the disaster could have been avoided. What we're dealing with is not a natural
disaster, an earthquake, an inundation or a raging storm which cannot directly be prevented or
avoided (even if the paramount responsibility of the consumer society as the engine of global climate change might well be recalled when speaking of the latter two). The Kolontr disaster, on the
other hand, can be directly linked to human negligence, to ignoring signs, severe omissions and
issues of liability. It wouldn't have happened if... if the company had switched to the dry disposal
technology previously, just as it had done in the case of the Mosonmagyarvr plant. If anyone,
whether on the part of the corporation or of the competent authorities had taken the trouble to
monitor the structural engineering condition of the dam and its dislocation, now proven to have
been happening for years. Or if the authorities had not given permission, in 2006, for depositing
ordinary waste which in fact had a pH value of 13. If the competences regarding construction
authorization and inspection had been clarified. One could go on and on. The fact however is
that none of these measures were taken, and as a result of these omissions, Kolontr, Devecser,
Somlvsrhely, the Torna creek and the Marcal river were flooded by red mud. Nevertheless,
the issue of what could and should have been done for prevention is still of some interest. We can
learn, and we must learn from the Kolontr disaster. The conclusions need to be drawn and the
systematic errors leading to the disaster need to be elucidated. Naturally, there is need to identify
who committed what errors and who bears moral or legal responsibility for the omissions and
bad decisions. It would, perhaps, be even more important to ensure that in the future, the same
mistakes and the same deficient systems do not lead to similar events in different circumstances.
In Hungary there are three further red mud reservoirs beside the one in Ajka, and several dozens
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of hazardous industrial sites or deposits. It is the task of the judicial bodies to allocate liability for
the events. The issue of weather we learn from the disaster at Kolontr and whether we rectify
the errors that had lead to it is our shared responsibility, including political decision makers, state
authorities, NGOs and professional organizations.
With this report, we volunteered to sketch, based on the information available, the reasons
behind the red mud disaster, and to identify the steps to be taken, if we are willing to learn from
the lesson, in Hungarian and EU legislation concerning state monitoring and authorization as
well as the functioning of institutions in order to minimize the risk of the occurrence of a similar
disaster. Our findings indicate that there is a lot to be done. One has to face the fact that all
parties concerned had committed severe omissions, including the governments and Parliaments
of the past one and a half decades, Mal Co. Ltd., as well as the environmental, construction and
mining authorities. The measures to be taken involve a similarly large group of stakeholders.
EU regulations need to be revised, and the same holds for the Hungarian regulatory framework
and legal practice.
We do not think that our report answers all the questions. We are confident that further
similar reports will be made by other expert groups and governmental circles, and that these will
shed light on issues which escaped our attention. The conclusions of the Report, however, call for
serious action to be taken immediately. Legislators have only carried out a tiny fraction of these
tasks so far. (Basically, certain provisions of Act 2010/CLXXXI can be regarded as such.) We
hope this Report may contribute to rectifying omissions as soon as possible so that the risk of
further disasters of a similar nature can be significantly reduced both in Hungary and in the EU.

Benedek Jvor
LMP Politics Can Be Different
Chairman of the Sustainable Development Committee
of the Hungarian Parliament

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The villages may become uninhabitable


unless the soil in the gardens is recovered

Executive Summary
Regarding the spatial extent, duration and severity of impact, the dam break at 12:25 pm on
04. 10. 2010 and the red mud disaster in its wake turned out to be the greatest environmental
crisis ever of Hungary and of the whole region. The spilt slurry reached the municipalities of
Devecser, Kolontr, Somlvsrhely, Somljen, Tskevr, Apcatorna and Kisberzseny. The
red mud contaminated the valleys of the Torna creek and the Marcal river, almost reaching
the river Rba. Through the Torna, Marcal, Rba and the Moson branch of the Danube, the
alkaline slurry entered the Danube, causing destruction in all the affected waters. Along the
Torna and the impacted section of Marcal, practically all aquatic life was destroyed.
The disaster left 10 people dead and almost 150 injured, including local residents and
the participants in the rescue operations.
The spilt mud and alkaline slurry polluted about 1,000 acres of land. The amount of
the emitted pollutants was about 0.91 million cubic meters.
The fact that the devastation wrought by the dam break significantly exceeded the
expected impact as specified in the disaster management plan can be accounted for in
physical terms by the exceedingly large water content of the slurry stored in Basin X, and
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from a chemical perspective by the alkalinity of the spilt liquid, which approached pH 13.
The relatively high concentration of metals (arsenic, mercury, etc.) in the pollutant mix has
also presented further health and environmental problems.
The Bayer process is globally the most widespread method of producing aluminium, and
leads to the formation of red mud practically everywhere it is used. Currently, no economically
viable and efficient solutions are available for the recovery of this slurry or tailings-like material.
It is most often deposited (dumping it in the sea or in reservoirs surrounded by dams). Attempts
have been made to find ways of recovering the material: red mud is used both as a raw material or
an additive e.g. in manufacturing bricks, road construction and soil improvement. Furthermore,
the technology for extracting metals is practically available but it is too costly. In an international
context, the trend is shifting away from wet disposal technologies towards dry disposal, which
poses lower risk. (Dry disposal was used in Mosonmagyarvr until production was discontinued there.) The alkalinity of the deposited slurry is typically lower internationally than it is in
Hungary. On the other hand, the dry technology about to be temporarily introduced in Ajka,
a technology which involves blending in power plant gypsum, has not yet been implemented at
an industrial level anywhere.
Following this unprecedented accident the authorities responded with the expected rapidity and decisiveness, but not always efficiently in the defence of human health, the environment
and material assets impacted by the disaster or at risk. One reason for the fact that intervention was not efficient enough was lack of information (local residents and participants in
the rescue operations were not informed as to the composition and pH value of the red mud,
the biological effect of the slurry, the list of materials to be used in restoration and whether
they were available). The defective communication structure was a further reason (crucial
information on environmental health issues was published with a delay of several days, with
significant initial inaccuracies). As a result, for several days the people impacted were on
several occasions forced to make decisions potentially influencing the rest of their lives based
on confl icting information (e.g. the red mud is not harmful vs. the red mud is toxic and/or
radioactive). The deficiencies of governmental information characterising the first days after
the accident were primarily mitigated by non-governmental organisations (Greenpeace, Clean
Air Working Group, etc.), as they were the sources of communication regarding measurement
data and useful health advice.
The red mud contained chromium, mercury, lead and nickel contaminants several
times the limit values for ground water and drinking water, also exceeding intervention
levels no longer in force. The majority of tests indicated arsenic concentration levels beyond
the limits values defined for soil and sewage sludge.
In the first few days, public authorities and institutions stated, citing test results obtained
decades earlier, that the composition of the red mud poses no significant health risk or environmental hazard. In the first week of damage control, the population received no factual
information about either the potential radioactive impact of the pollutants or the health consequences of airborne dust pollution. The long-term effects of soil pollution on the environment
and agricultural production were not communicated to residents until February 2011. Official
communications involving conflicting and often unsubstantiated information was a constant
feature of the remediation process.
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At the same time, the first measurements made by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences clarified what environmental authorities had managed to ignore for years: based
on analysing samples taken at different locations, the reservoir spillage takes pH values in
the range 11 to 14. Consequently, the red mud should be considered as an environmentally
hazardous substance.

***
Possibly the most important statement of the Kolontr Report is that all Hungarian authorities with a role in licensing and monitoring the accident-stricken red mud reservoir
had committed errors.
The Central Transdanubian Environmental, Nature Protection and Water Management
Inspectorate had endorsed the classification of the deposited material as non-hazardous
waste, thus significantly relaxing requirements on disposal and subsequent monitoring.
The authorities endorsed the uncorroborated disaster management plan handed in by MAL
Co. Ltd.
The Inspectorate failed to engage the competent District Mining Inspectorate in the
licensing process.
The notary of Ajka had prohibited the depositing of hazardous waste in the reservoir, but
failed to take steps when hazardous waste was in fact deposited in the area.
Although the licensing of mining waste deposits has been the competence of the Mine
Supervision since 2008, the competent District Mining Inspectorate did not check the
structure of the disposal site for technological compliance, and failed to enforce use of
the best available technology with regard to disposal (conversion to dry technology).
None of the authorities substantially considered the risk of a dam break.
When the privatisation contract was concluded, IPPC and BAT requirements were not taken
into consideration. Neither was compliance with these requirements subsequently enforced
in an exhaustive manner by either the environmental or the construction authorities.

Regarding the occurrence and the severity of accident, a decisive factor was the Hungarian authorities failure to treat the red mud deposited together with the slurry as hazardous waste in the course of the licensing and inspection process, even though the alkalinity
of the material in the reservoir that was later damaged would have justified this. Licensing
hazardous waste disposal entails imposing stricter standards and the participation of more au15

thorities than is required for treating non-hazardous waste. A more thorough procedure might
have shed light the technological risks of the landfi ll and the deficiencies of the emergency plan.
The company acting as the landfill operator bears liability for classifying the deposited
material as non-hazardous at the time of applying for the integrated environmental permit,
even though the alkalinity levels clearly met the criteria for hazardous waste. The company
also bears partial liability in failing to meet the environmental requirements specified in
the privatisation contract fully and on time. Similarly, the company bears partial liability for
failing to ensure the transition (or the preparation for the transition) to a dry depositing technology, at the latest, by the time of requesting the integrated environmental permit. Though it is
at present an open question, local reports suggest that the company might have become aware
of the stability problems of the reservoir (local residents reported works carried out in August
and September to reinforce the wall of Basin X), but failed to notify any of the official bodies.

***
Furthermore, the occurrence of the accident can be linked to regulatory anomalies owing to
the fact there had been deficiencies in adopting and properly implementing EU legislation.
The relevant Hungarian legislation only partially matches Directive 2008/98/EC on
waste requirements. Though it should have entered into force by 12.12.2010, the Directive
was not fully implemented in Hungary. An important fact concerning the issue of the responsibility of authorities is that the waste treatment plant belongs to the competence of
the Mine Supervision under Hungarian legislation. The directive cited imposes an obligation of regular monitoring on the operator, to be carried out at least annually with regard
to both the condition of the built structure and of the waste, but this obligation was not
fulfi lled in practice.
According to the Act on the Environment, the permit-holder (along with the owners and
managers of legal entities which cause harm) has increased responsibility for damages incurred
through use of the environment, a responsibility which may only be limited, or transferred
under very strict conditions. However, these general rules apparently come short of providing
for adequate and available financial means needed to cover for the damage incurred. According
to the Act adopted in 1995, the rules governing the obligation to provide a security deposit
and to establish dedicated reserve funds in the course of the environmental licensing process and the rules on liability insurance policies shall be laid down in a government decree.
Th is objective has only been formally met so far.
On the whole, the EU legislation examined in the present analysis, provided it is
adopted and implemented in line with the intent of the legislator, seems suitable for the
prevention of similar accidents and for managing the consequences thereof. At the same
time, there is a need to adopt uniform classification criteria for hazardous waste, unified
EU-wide regulation governing security deposits and liability insurance (at least for reasons
concerning competition law), and a common EU environmental emergency fund set up to
cover environmental damage that can not be remedied otherwise.

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***
It is not possible to account for the Kolontr red mud disaster by means of a single cause.
Among the potential causes and preceding events, the following should by all means be
noted:
The conditions of privatization: it was with reference to the obligations of environmental
protection that the buyer was able to acquire the Ajka Aluminium plant at a very low price.
However, these obligations were not properly regulated within the contract, and there were
also gaps in monitoring implementation. Moreover, the authorities allowed on more than
one occasion for the owner to postpone meeting these obligations.
Deficiencies in monitoring environmental damage-limitation: the privatisation contracts
contained an obligation to provide for environmental damage-limitation, but the monitoring
of how this was implemented was deficient. No detailed documentation is available, except for
written records to the effect that invoices were presented as evidence for compliance without
technical inspection having taken place;
Outdated disposal technology: when the first red mud reservoirs were established, the
technology of wet disposal for red mud was still widespread, but much safer dry processes
were already available by the time the permit for Basin X was granted, and the integrated
environmental permit for the reservoir was granted;
Incorrect classification of red mud waste: when the integrated environmental permit was
granted, red mud was not classified as hazardous waste, even though it clearly counted as
such on the basis of its pH value under the Hungarian and EU legislation then in force;
licensing and monitoring malpractice on the part of administrations: following the disaster, a court ruling was required to clarify which authority should have granted a permit for the
dam building at the reservoir and carried out static stability inspection of the built structure;
the sinking of the dam (which could also be related to posterior slurry walling): satellite
images clearly show that the barrier sank in certain places at a rate of 1 cm / year, creating
maximum shear stress precisely at the section where the dam finally broke, while the sinking itself might have occurred because of the slurry walling, or because of the dam base
and subsoil becoming soaked due to the slurry walling. However, no use was made of the
satellite imagery in the structural engineering inspection of the dam, even though they were
continuously available;
Negligence on the part of company management, the authorities and government officials: several NGOs had previously protested about the lack of environmental protection
developments and the failure to carry out inspections. Their comments had no practical
consequences at all.
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***
The Ajka red mud disaster was unique due both to its nature and its dimensions. At least part
of the lessons learned from similar industrial accidents remain valid:
The costs of remediation are eventually borne by the state, with the companies responsible
for incidents almost always backing out of the process to a greater or smaller extent,
Compensation for damages only takes place in the long run, with both the range of individuals eventually receiving compensation and its extent far more limited than that originally
promised,
Personal and institutional responsibility is identified in the rarest of cases,
The impact of environmental damage typically lasts longer than was originally estimated.

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The trace of pollution ont he wall


with the ruptured dam in the background.
The residents were forced to escape through the roof

1. Antecedents
1.1. Aluminium industry and Alumina production in Hungary
On the territory of historical Hungary, intensive research for ores started in the beginning of
the 1900s. The mining of bauxite, first reported in Bihar county, reached an industrial scale
as early as the first World War. Around 1920, large quantities of bauxite were found in the
Vrtes and Bakony mountains. Mining at an industrial scale started in 1926 at the bauxite
quarry at Gnt.
The first Hungarian alumina plant, constructed in Mosonmagyarvr, started operations
in 1934. Before this time, Alumina was manufactured with Hungarian bauxite as raw material
in Germany. Within a few years, aluminium was also manufactured in Csepel. Partly as an
answer to heightened demand for Alumina and aluminium as a consequence of the German
war effort, construction of the Alumina plant and aluminium furnace at Ajka was started in
1941. The planned capacity of the Alumina plant was 20 kt/year, that of the aluminium furnace
was 10 kt/year. The Ajka thermal power plant was constructed next to the aluminium company,
providing water vapour for the aluminium furnace and electric energy for the Alumina plant.
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The plant and the furnace started to operate in 1943, though neither reached the planned
capacity levels before the reconstruction following the second World War.
At the time of forced industrialization and the war economy, aluminium was a metal of
strategic importance: one of the most important raw materials for (partly, military) airplane
construction. The whole of this priority industry was covered by MASZOBAL Ltd. (Hungarian-Soviet Bauxite Aluminium Ltd.), established on January 1, comprising by the bauxite
mines at Gnt, Iszkaszentgyrgy, Halimba and Nyird, the Alumina plant and aluminium
furnace at Ajka, the light alloy rolling mill at Szkesfehrvr, the Almsfzit Alumina plant,
the Bauxite Research Lab at Balatonalmd, the Viktoria Chemical Plant,to which were added,
from 1952 on, the Aluminium rolling mill at Kbnya, the Aluminium furnaces at Tatabnya
and Inota, as well as the Alumina and Alundum (Borolon) Plant at Magyarvr. MASZOBAL
was dismantled at the end of 1954, as the Hungarian State redeemed the totality of the property
of the Soviet state, and went on to establish the Aluminium Trading Company, controlled by
the Ministry. Its supervision was exerted by the Ministry for Heavy Industry (NIM), then by
the Chief Department for Non Ferrous Metals in the NIM until June 1963. The main tenet
of the Hungarian-Soviet Treaty on Alumina and Aluminium was that further exploitation
of the Hungarian Bauxite riches, needs to be secured by joining one of the most favourable
alumina production opportunities in the socialist camp with the cheapest and most efficiently
available electric energy base, in a way that it is an optimal solution for both the countries
participating in the co-operation and the whole of the socialist camp. According to the treaty,
Hungary accepted to ship a continuously growing amount of Alumina between 1967 and 1980,
gradually reaching 330,000 tons to the Soviet Union. According to the plans, the alumina is
processed there, and the aluminium produced is shipped back to Hungary. Soviet metal shipments equally growing gradually reached 165 thousand tons by 1980. In the framework of
the Soviet-Hungarian Treaty on Alumina and Aluminium, it was not the electricity required
for processing, as it could have been more rational, but the alumina was shipped to the Soviet
Union. Simplifying somewhat, the construction can be described as outsourced smelting. The
price of alumina and aluminium was accounted for the Hungarian-Soviet border, the Soviet
party financing the transportation within the Soviet Union. Most of the costs of smelting were
paid for with Hungarian industrial products, creating a market for Hungarian industry goods.
The heavy industry minister in 1963 founded a single organization for Hungarian Aluminium Industry, the Hungarian Aluminium Industry Trust (MAT), which integrated the
constantly growing firms in the sector until the regime change. In September 1988 an agreement was reached that abolished the Soviet-Hungarian Treaty on Alumina and Aluminium
in 1990, and cooperation in the MAT in the period 1991-1995 was carried out as a business
venture. ON 31 March 1991, trust were transformed into corporations, and the MAT was
transformed into 100% state owned joint-stock HUNGALU on 31 December 1991. On June
30 1991, State Property Agency (AV Rt) became the owner of MAT. In 1990, the Nyird
Bauxite mine closed, while the aluminium furnaces at Tatabnya and Ajka stopped production in 1991. Similarly, production was stopped at the Ajka furnace in 1992, and capacities
were decreased in other alumina plants in the country during 1993, with the Almsfzit
Alumina Plant closing down in 1994. Privatization seemed to be the only option to prevent
the total collapse.
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1.2. Privatization in the aluminium industry


1.2.1. Selling the productive companies of the sector
At the time of the government decree in 1995 deciding about privatization, maintaining operability and financing loss-making management in the sector would have needed billion-scale
financial commitment from the state, let alone the environmental problems caused by the
red mud accumulated during the decades. In the beginning of the nineties (between 1991
and 1993) demand for aluminium fell sharply, its price on the global market reached a historic nadir, the Russian market collapsed for bankruptcy, in addition it was apparent at the
time that the operational costs of energy-consuming aluminium smelters (partly due to the
privatization of the energy sector in progress at the time) would jump. In the meantime, the
report about the privatization concept, compiled for the general assembly of HUNGALU
Rt. on May 15, 1995 claims that from the middle of 1994, aluminium prices on the global
market increased significantly, and from the beginning of 1995 the price of alumina products
has also moved favourably. After a five-year decrease price revenues will start to increase in
1995, even on a real value. Therefore the unfavourable present situation had to be considered
against good prospects. Finally the governments short-sightedness and tight-fisted attitude
won: as there was no intention to spend money from budgetary resources on the aluminium
industry, the government decided to sell the sector. However, as we look back now it seems
in this case this was a guided privatisation, pertaining the pretence of competition, the government selected the owners they found favourable, and ensured advantageous conditions
for the favoured owner groups so that they can obtain the complete aluminium industry, from
mining through processing to production and trade.
Before the privatisation of HUNGALU, in May 1995 the Minister of the Industry dismissed board director Ervin Ernst and C.E.O. Pter Keresztes, and appointed rpd Bakonyi
as board director, who was often mentioned in the news concerning the Kolontr disaster and
Pl Szab as C.E.O. (who later became known by the public as the head of the Hungarian
Post and the Hungarian Railways, and then the minister responsible for infrastructure). Thus
persons were appointed to lead HUNGALU, who later appeared in the privatised companies as
owners, managers, board members and supervisory board members. rpd Bakonyi, together
with Lajos Tolnay and Bla Petrusz has been an owner of great influence at MAL Zrt. However, there is another group in the most important companies of the Hungarian aluminium
industry, which obtained ownership during the Horn government, and relates to later Prime
Minister Ferenc Gyurcsny and Altus Rt.
The idea of an apparent guided privatisation is also confirmed by the fact that although
foreign companies were also interested in the offer (e.g. a consortium established by Norwegian
Hydro-Aluminium and Slovakian ZSNP entered the privatisation tender of Ajka Aluminium
Industry Ltd. (Ajkai Alumniumipari Kft.)), only one element of the HUNGALU property
was sold to a foreign buyer on its actual market price. Alcoa took over the Light Metal Works
in Szkesfehrvr (Szkesfehrvri Knnyfmm Vllalat) for 6.5 bn HUF, while another
outstanding element of the stake, Mosonmagyarvri Timfld s Mkorund (Motim) Rt. was
taken over by Altus, owned by Gyurcsny, (together with the management) for 705 million HUF.

21

The present ownership structure in the Hungarian aluminium industry was established in a
relatively complicated process. According to the first privatisation contract, in 1995 HUNGALU
Magyar Alumniumipari Rt. (HUNGALU) sold its stake in Balassagyarmati Fmipari Kft. (Balassagyarmat Metal Industry Ltd.) to Altus Befektetsi s Vagyonkezel Rt. (Altus Investment
and Property Management Plc.) (Altus) and Tz-M Szervezsi, Vagyonkezelsi s Szolgltat
Kft. (Organisation, Property Management and Service Ltd.) The second contract was concluded
on December 21, 1995, in which HUNGALU sold 90 per cent stake of Magyarvri Timfld s
Mkorund Kft. (Motim) to Altus and GPS Vagyonkezel s Gazdasgi Tancsad Kft. (GPS Property Management and Business Counselling Ltd.), established by the heads of MOTIM at the time,
in fifty-fifty per cent. The third contract was concluded in spring, 1996, in which HUNGALU sold
Metalucon Fmszerkezeteket Gyrt s Forgalmaz Kft. (Metalucon Metal Structure Manufacturing and Trading Ltd.) to MMB Finance Befektet s Kereskedelmi Kft. (MMB Finance Investment
and Trade Ltd.). The fourth contract was concluded on May 8, 1996, in which HUNGALU sold
90 per cent of Inotai Alumnium Kft. (Inota Aluminium Ltd.) to Magyar Aluminium Kft. (Hungarian Aluminium Ltd.) (MAL). The fifth contract was concluded on August 16, 1996, in which
HUNGALU sold a 72 per cent stake of Bakonyi Bauxitbnya Kft. (Bakony Bauxite Mining Ltd.)
to Fak-Top Kft.- MAL, MOTIM (actually Altus) and Metalservice Rt. According to the sixth
contract, also on August 16, 1996 HUNGALU sold 90 per cent of Kbal Kbnyai Knnyfmm
Kft. (Kbal Kbnyai Light Metal Works) to MAL. With the seventh contract signed on December
19, 1996 HUNGALU sold a 90 per cent stake of Almsfziti Timfld Kft. (Almsfzt Alumina
Ltd.) to HUNGALUmina Vagyonhasznost s Kereskedelmi Kft. (HUNGALUmina Property
Exploitation and Trade Ltd.), which had been renting the plant stopped in 1994 since 1995, and later
the complete machinery of the company. In July 1997, an eighth contract was concluded by which
HUNGALU sold a 90 per cent stake of the Ajkai Alumniumipari Kft. (Ajka Aluminium Industry
Ltd.) to Inotai Alumnium Kft. (Inota Aluminium Industry Ltd.) (or actually, to MAL. The last
contract, the ninth, signed on November 17, 1997 HUNGALU sold HUNGALU Kereskedelmi
Kft. (HUNGALU Trade Ltd.) to MAL and Motim (Altus). Each contract contained business
(employment, capital increase, development) and environmental commitments.
In the times of the Orbn government, the supervisory committee of the State Privatisation and Property Management Plc. compiled a report about the privatisation of the aluminium
industry, which claimed the Hungarian state suffered a significant loss in the course of the
sale of the company [a HUNGALU], worth approximately 25 billion HUF. The damage was
mostly attributed to the sale of the companies below their actual price.
The privatisation contracts were classified during the Horn government, and they have
just been disclosed, after the accident, on the urge of Politics Can Be Different, following
several addresses in Parliament1 and press releases.2 For the experts the contracts themselves
and the conditions of the conclusion of the contracts are controversial.
1
2

See: http://www.parlament.hu/internet/plsql/ogy_naplo.naplo_szoveg?P_CKL=39&p_uln=35&p_felsz=116&p_szoveg=&p_stilus=
Lets start the revision of privatization contracts with MAL Co. Ltd.
http://lehetmas.hu/sajtokozlemenyek/8293/privatizacios-szerzodesek-felulvizsgalata-kezdjuk-a-mal-zrt-vel/
On whose behalf keeps Government the MAL contract a secret?
http://vorosiszap.lehetmas.hu/hirek/108/kiert-titkolja-a-kormany-a-mal-szerzodest/

22

a) The contracts were compiled by the law firm Ersi and partner (the firm of former SZDSZ
MP Ersi Mtys). The texts are quite similar, they often overlap, contain repeating turns,
when the texts were compiled, the peculiarities of the companies were not taken into consideration (especially with respect to environmental commitments, where almost all the
contracts contain the same paragraphs).
b) The contracts published have not been signed. It seems for the Orbn government the protection of personal rights is more important than the public interest to know who and why
decided about the wording of these contracts.
c) A returning element in all the contracts is that a report has to be compiled each year until
March 31 about the progress of the environmental damage management (and in case the
rate of the progress is behind the rate set forth by the environmental authority, a penalty
shall be paid). In the meantime, based on the documents available it cannot be found whether anybody obeyed this requirement (only the fact at the environmental authority in charge for the region the companies concerned presented invoices proving they had worked on
damage repairs, which was approved by the authority as a performance certificate).
d) From all the contracts, the third (about the sale of Ajkai Alumniumipari Kft.) contains
the most controversial elements. On one hand, HUNGALU remitted a 2.7 billion loan.
On the other hand the price was actually only 10 million HUF (namely 90 per cent of the
equity, a stake with a nominal value of 1591.040 million HUF was given to the buyer for
10 million forints). Based on point 6.2 of the contract, the Company (Ajka), based on the
agreement with the Buyer shall act as bailer. The Seller (HUNGALU) shall decide, whether it will validate its claim towards the Company and/or Buyer. In the meantime, the
debt of Ajkai Alumniumipari Kft., which was bigger than the equity was released, and
took over the debts towards third parties as a commitment, and also took up that in case of
the dissent of outsider parties, and in order to able to pay its overdue loans, almost on stock
market level. In other words, the buyer took over a 90 per cent stake of a de facto sound
company, for 10 million forints.
The contract estimates the costs of the damage remedy in the given circle at 3.3 billion
HUF, in the meantime claims that this includes a 2,200,000 ECU (approximately 400 million
forints on the exchange rate of 1997) PHARE project, and the biggest project, the recultivation of the abandoned depositories (together with the depositories), stayed at HUNGALU,
therefore MAL should not spend much on environmental protection HUNGALU. From the
contract it does not turn out why the price was decreased to such an extent eventually.

1.2.2. Transferring environmental responsibilities


The privatisation of the aluminium industry was called a success story in a report prepared for
the Horn government by Judit Csiha. Its success is far from being obvious. The income from
the sales amounting to HUF 9 to 10 billion was continuously spent on maintaining the emp23

loyment levels of the companies and keeping them functioning as well as on environmental
damage control. So finally the state made no profit from privatisation while it was stuck with
a range of environmental obligations and risks for decades. On 1996 price levels the privatised companies took an obligation to invest 11 million HUF n the form of the environmental investment, which would add up to HUF 30 million on 2009 price levels. The impacted
companies on the other hand didnt even approach this amount in their actual environmental
investment. The environmental obligations related to Ajka were specified in the Privatisation Contract, but in a vague form that would not faster accountability, without any specific
details. The main environmental items of the privatization contract of Ajka Aluminium Industry ltd. could be found in section 4.2 of the contract. All environmental damage in fact
identified so far or in the future, shall be eliminated following consultation with the environmental authority (to the extent and pace agreed upon) on its expense or at the expense of
the Association the buyer agrees to accept the sanctions as well as the provisions of point 3
of Government decree 2263/1995. (IX.08.) with respect to the purchaser. (This government
decree went out of force from 01 July 2001. {Government decree 2166/2001. (VI. 29.) on
annulling decrees from the series 2000. 1. The government terminates regulations made by
the Council Of Ministers and government decrees specified in the appendix to this decree.}
In the privatisation contract of the Ajka plant, among others, references are often made
to point 3 of government decree2263/1995. (IX.08.), as a text where the environmental obligations are defined, but in fact this point failed to include specific details.

2263/1995. (IX. 8) Government Decree


...
3. The Government considers it necessary to settle environmental problems in the aluminium
industry. To this end,
a) HUNGALU shall create an environmental damage assessment and damage control plan
for its societies. The environmental condition of the settlement shall be presented in the plan,
proposals for damage control and the anticipated costs should be included;
b) HUNGALU shall fulfil the tasks set out in the plan approved by the regionally competent Environmental Inspectorate tasks performed by an. In case of a delay of more than a year, it shall
transfer the coverage of the costs required to the Central Environmental Protection Fund.
The privatisation contract and the government decree formulated the following major environmental obligations:
Consulting with the regional competent environmental authority, the company shall develop
an environmental damage control program and a road map for it.

24

The environmental audit identified environmental damage amounting to HUF 3.3 Billion,
over and beyond the PHARE project (a reference to the construction of a slurry wall to avoid
further damage), added as the appendix of the contract. Failing to adhere to the programme
endorsed by the environmental inspectorate, the company shall pay a penalty amounting to 10
percent of the value of the damage.
Yearly damage control reports shall be sent to the privatisation authority or it legal successor.
The PHARE project amounting to ECU 2.2 million shall be implemented by the seller.

1.2.3. Omitting recultivation of the red mud reservoirs


On site inspection of the realisation of environmental investment on the part of the environmental authority took the form of checking that the invoices representing work carried out
were handed over (cf. the Minutes page of the contract SZT 25561 with subject MOTIM).
Thus in fact it had been unilateral acceptance of invoices without inspection.
The most costly of the environmental tasks would have been the creation of a safe disposal
technology and the recultivation of existing reservoirs. The Kolontr accident could occur
because neither of these large scale measures was fully implemented.
The National Development Agency carried out fieldwork in the region of AJKA. On 27
September and from 26 to 28 October, 2005. Based on this field work, a report was prepared,
entitled the role of the national development plan in the development in the Ajka small region.
The document has the following to say: A large amount of tailings, especially in the form of
red mud were accumulated in the region of Ajka. With the progress of technology this substance can become the raw material for new industrial activities. Until that point however it
reduces environmental potential.
The report carried out nine years after the privatisation in 2005 mentions the following points among the recommended improvements and the expected costs: Recultivation of
redbud reservoirs in Ajka, Ajka, HUF 600.000.000. As a further item amount in HUF 50
million, appears protection of the water base of the Marcal river, primarily threatened by the
red mud reservoirs.
14.5 billion m3 of red mud was stored in the slurry basins of the Ajka aluminium plant
before flood ending in environmental disaster. It is a fact that recultivation of the slurry reservoirs have only partially been implemented so far even thought the state declared being
satisfied with the environmental performance of MAL Co. Ltd. on several accounts and never
claimed the penalty that was provided for in the privatisation contract. At the same time, the
political elite of all times proved friendly to the owners of the company. For example, Lajos
Tolnay was invited to take part in the consultation referred to us national consultation as a
member of a restricted consultation body let by George Matolcsy. The national consultation
was a program of Viktor Orbn than in opposition. Even more strikingly, based on a decision
by Minister of the Economy, George Matolcsy, the government decided to give the company
25

a national quality award in 2000. In a message the prime minister sent for the celebration at
the award ceremony, he used the following words: the owners and employees of the company
can be proud to be the stakeholders of an enterprise that represents the state of the art of
Hungarian economy. Through their quality performance, they show the path for others. In
the case of MAL this quality performance was made possible by only partially carrying out
the remediation of hazardous waste produced in the past or during every day production, and
due to the fact that not having to cover this significant part of the expenses, it was provided a
competitive advantage compared to other companies taking their environmental obligations
more seriously.
This naturally required cooperation on the part of the company and the environmental
authority and, in addition, very liberal inspection and licensing behaviour on the part of the
latter. It is a characteristic example that the Central Transdanubian Environmental Inspectorate gave permission in 2009, i.e. one year preceding the accident to raise the height of the
dams of basin 8 which had already been closed and recultivated, and basin 9, closed but still
kept under water and furthermore gave permission to reopen them as active reservoir basins.

1.3. Hazardous waste disposal


1.3.1. Hazardous waste in Hungary
According to data from the National Waste Management Plan, about 70 million tons of waste
is produced in Hungary in a year. This quantity includes all waste created in the course of production, distribution and consumption, as well as processed plant leftovers and biomass used,
for the most part, in agriculture. About 5% of the amount indicated is hazardous, while the remaining 95% consists of 10% of inert waste (construction and demolition waste, as well as waste
products form the manufacturing of materials used in construction). 90% of industrial waste
represents slag from power plants and the metal industry, mine slurry as well as industrial waste
water sludge and sludge from water treatment. The rest of the remaining quantity includes waste similar to industrial waste generated through distribution (commerce, services).
About one fifth of 3.4 million tons of the hazardous waste produced is red mud resulting from alumina production. About 1.5 million tons of hazardous waste from the processing
industry, the largest share of which is represented by tailings and slurry from metal smelting
and processing as well as the processing and utilization of crude oil. A further one million ton
is made up from combustion residues from power plants and waste incinerators. Naturally,
hazardous waste is equally generated by agriculture and the food industry, as well as by the
population and services. 10% of hazardous waste is generated by plants and animal. About 0.7
to 1 % of solid municipal waste is hazardous.
Under Hungarian regulations, it is primarily the producer or the owner at all times who
bear responsibility for waste management, including the collection for later management,
utilization and neutralization of the waste. This responsibility can be fulfi lled by meeting
the requirements specified by regulations, and in line with the polluter pays principle, either
through waste management (an activity subject to licensing) or through paying for the services
26

of a licensed operator. In cases governed by separate regulations, the responsibility of waste


management and the costs is borne by the producer generating the waste. As a consequence,
prevention is equally the responsibility of the producer of the waste; the legal environment,
however, provides only minimally efficient indirect incentives. The quantity of the waste produced is (slowly) decreasing, but this is explained by a decline of the economy and in production
levels rather then premeditated prevention levels , especially in the first part of the 1990s. Today,
the ongoing structural modification of industry and accompanying product and technology
development entail the generation of lower amounts of waste, with decreased hazard levels,
in part owing to stricter environmental regulations.
The rate of waste utilisation is significantly low in an international comparison, especially
for hazardous waste, the utilization of which does not even reach 20%. Management of the
waste produced is typically neutralized, mostly in the form of dumping. The proportion of
the latter exceeds 50%, not including waste generated in agriculture. Added together, physical, chemical, biological and thermal neutralisation of the waste, barely represents 20% even
including incineration, and almost half of this amount is liquid municipal waste processed in
waste water treatment plants or poured in the sewage system. Thermal neutralization amounts
to 6%, while physical-chemical neutralization, mostly consisting of the treatment of chemical waste, represents 4 %. About 75% of hazardous waste and about 60% of industrial waste,
more than four fifths of solid municipal waste and about half the sewage sludge is deposited
in landfills or subjected to long term storage in the area of production. Regarding industrial
waste, it is mostly waste products from power plants, metallic industry and mining, produced
at a large scale, that is deposited in landfi lls in the neighbourhood. Thermal neutralization
of hazardous waste has a capacity of 85 thousand tons yearly, one third of which provided by
small capacity hospital incinerators and waste oil incinerators.
Careless economic and waste management practice in past decades, and much more lax
regulations than today, with illegal dumping on several occasions resulted in contaminated
areas created over many places. About 500 million tons of industrial waste has been accumulated, deposited, for the most part closed and recultivated reservoirs. 99% of this material comes
from the mining industry, iron production, electricity generation and the construction industry.
The total amount of bauxite residues produced and deposited in the course of Hungarian
alumina production equals 35 million tons. Only 0.3% is deposited is reused in a year though
the capacity for utilization is available for many times this quantity. About 7% of the waste
accumulated in landfi lls is today classified as hazardous, about 90% of which is red mud and
the rest consisting of drilling sludge. The quantity of hazardous waste entailing direct hazards
deposited in ways which fail to meet contemporary depositing regulations represents about
270 thousand tons (several million tons including red mud).
The producers and managers of waste have to maintain accurate documentation of the
waste managed on the basis of measurements, regarding the transport, treatment of the waste
as well as the functioning of the operating facilities. Based on this documentation, they have
to publish statistical and administrative reports to the authorities with data content specified
by regulations. The documentation and the data reported provide the basis for monitoring
what happens to the waste. On the other hand, the appropriate plans and forecasts can only
be made on the basis of the assessment and analysis of the data thus produced.
27

There are different systems for the administration and processing of the data that are only
partially harmonized, and are at times incomplete. The most complete information system
on hazardous waste is operated by the ministry for rural development, based on mandatory
comprehensive reporting on the part of producers and managers of hazardous waste. In the
case of non hazardous waste that can be stored together with hazardous and municipal waste,
the polluter plays principle is realized in theory: the costs are paid for by the producers of the
waste. The Kolontr disaster has shown, however, that it is not fully realized in practice: the
producer of the waste in Ajka has not paid for secure depositing and storage (using a cheaper
and less secure technology) and it fell on the state (i.e. the community of taxpayers) to pay for
the disaster, the impact of which was more serious than expected. The same was proven by
chemical residues in Gar, waste with heavy metal content in Nagyttny, gas mass in Budafok
and rm, dye production residues in jpest and galvanic sludge in Csepel. The number and
volume of cases indicates that the present regulatory environment concerning the licensing and
inspection practice of authorities is not suitable for the prevention of hazardous waste related
disaster with serious health and environmental impacts, while damage control calls for billions
of Forints of expenses on the part of the state.
For the sake of prevention, the issues of mandatory liability insurance and the introduction of the institution of the provision of a security deposit have been regularly raised since the
1990s (last when the Ministry of Environmental was under the direction of Mikls Persnyi).
The governments of all times, however, always refused the proposals, invariably on the grounds
that Hungarian economic actors would not be able to bear such an extra burden. Not only
does this attitude raise concerns owing to creating a similar burden for the state without
undemocratically, but it is also problematic from the point of view of EU competition policy,
since these environmental costs are quite common in the European economy.

1.3.2. Red mud disposal sites in Hungary


In the territory of the country, as a heritage of the aluminium industry aluminium industry
with much higher capacities of former times, large amounts of red mud are stored which fall
into the category of hazardous waste as in the case of Ajka.
The reservoirs near the Ajka alumina plant contain 14.5 cubic meters of red mud (with
70% solid content, thus it would be more accurate to use the expressions bauxite residue and
solid phase).
The slurry reservoirs covering 200 hectares in territory of the former Almsfzit alumina
plant are located directly next to the Danube, containing 12 million tons of waste in 7 basins.
Reservoirs next to the Ajka plant store 14.5 cubic meters of red mud. (With 70% dry
matter matter, making it mors accurete to talk of bauxite resudue or solid phase).
5 million tons of red mud were accumulated in the reservoir behind the dam constructed
in the valley of Kntorkerti stream near Neszmly, equally deposited by the Almsfzit
alumina plant. The quantity of the total amount of bauxite residues closely approximates 12
million tons. Calculating with 70% solid content, this equals to 17 million tons of wet slurry.
The landfills of the Mosonmagyarvr alumina plant, owned by MOTIM ltd, are located
at a few hundred kilometres from the city. The material stored there (bauxite residues equal28

ling 3.7 tons in terms of solid content) is much more dense than the substance deposited in
Ajka. After filtering, the fi lter cakes with 55-60% solid content were deposited in a red mud
refuse by means of a special pump system. This method of storing red mud was introduced
in the first half of the 1980s. The closed reservoirs were covered by 20 cm of clay and 50 cm
of soil, on top of which special acacia shrubs were planted. The company spent about HUF 2
Billion on recultivation so far.
According to information published after the Kolontr disaster, the greatest environmental risk is posed by the Almsfzit deposits in the direct vicinity of the Danube flooding
area. Out of seven slurry basins located in the area, Basin 7 remains still partially uncovered,
while the others are covered and recultivated. Several tons of other hazardous wastes were also
deposited (Tatai Krnyezetvdelmi Ltd. executed various experiments in waste neutralization.)
Basin 7 was partly covered with the flying ash from the Dorog hazardous waste incinerator.
Tatai Krnyezetvdelmi ltd. developed new technology for the recultivation of red mud reservoirs
by other hazardous waste which solves the isolation of hazardous materials in the reservoir
from the environment, along with biological treatment and neutralization of organic material
and waste with metal content, taken over from various waste producers.) The compost material
generated through the process is similar to natural soil with regard to its structure and composition, while being resistant to highly alkaline sludge with an elevated metal content, and thus, it
is perfectly suited for covering reservoirs and planting recultivation vegetation. This technology
fulfils the following objectives:
The elimination of the production of surface dust on top of the reservoirs.
Making reservoirs fit the landscape, that is, creating conditions as close to the original as possible form the biological and visual points of view. The growth of vegetation results in living
organisms gradually returning into the covered areas.
The production of large quantities of a recultivation mixture suited for covering the red mud
reservoirs and planting vegetation, requiring minimal long term intervention.
Reducing the proportion of water filtering through, thus preventing the ablution of heavy
metals chemically fixed in the red mud.
The processing and utilization of organic waste through placing it in an environment where
its hazardous content is significantly or completely reduced through biological decomposition.
The North Transdanubian Environmental Inspectorate, as the environmental authority
of first instance issued an integrated environmental permit along with an environmental operation permit to the Tatai Krnyezetvdelmi Ltd. for the application of this technology. The
permits cover the red mud reservoirs of Almsfzit and allow for the biological neutralization of
132,000 tons of hazardous and 280,000 tons of non hazardous waste a year through composting.

29

The real environmental risk of the Almsfzit red mud reservoirs is however inherent in
their location. The environment of the present slurry reservoirs had been a swampy area before
the river management works. This area is now separated by a 10 km long flood protection embankment along the Danube that is identical to the red mud reservoir dam over several sections.
At times of flood, the slurry reservoirs stand out of the water the way islands do. The residential
areas of the villages of Kiskolnia and Nagykolnia are located near the slurry reservoirs.
At the time of establishing the red mud reservoirs, no clay layer was spread, thus the
reservoirs constructed without proper protection could contaminate ground waters. When the
level of the Danube is low or moderate, this contaminated water could get into the Danube
due to the direction of flow of the ground water. The Territory of the present slurry reservoirs
had previously been river and stream beds that still define the direction of groundwater flow.
These same causes significantly reduce the stability of the dams. In the groundwater monitoring
wells, situated around the slurry reservoirs, concentrations in toxic metals and fluorides have
been measured several times surpassing limit value.3
Furthermore, the area is exposed to the threat of earthquakes. At the nearby municipalities of Komrom and Dunaalms, several earthquakes took place resulting in entire buildings
collapsing. Potential major earthquakes happening in the area could cause an environmental
disaster due to the red mud getting into the Danube which could threaten the provision of
drinking water to the municipalities located along the river.

1.4. Technological deficiencies


1.4.1. The condition of the dam before the accident
The processing of satellite images reconstructed the past of the dam which broke on 4 October,
presently, going back 7 and half years. The investigation started at an individual researchers
initiative, was carried out with the cooperation of Dr. Gyula Grenerczy (Satellite Geodetic
Observatory of the Institute of Geodesy), Dr. Urs Wegmller (Gamma Remote Sensing,
Switzerland), The European Space Agency (ESA) and of Kepler Space.
Of one of the most novel and most advanced, highly complex space geodetic method,
i.e. differential and constant Synthetic Aperture Radar Interferometry (PSI) was applied
in the research. The method is based on satellite radar signals sweeping the globe, with the
reflected signals detected and data is stowed. Each time it passes above the ground, the satellite creates an image of the perceived radar signals reflected by the landscape, and thus on the
basis of comparing the satellite measurements carried out at different times, the movement of
Individual objects can be determine with high accuracy using appropriate scientific methods.
This method of investigation is special on several accounts. It is the only method for
the investigation of movement that can explore the past and can thus show movement from
the past, even in cases where nobody carried out measurements in the field. In the case of all
other technologies, points of measurements need to be established, measurements need to be
3

http://www.ekoku.hu/vorosiszap_sajt.pdf

30

carried out on site, and one needs to wait for a given period of time unto the dislocations are
significant enough to be indicated. In this case however, instead of establishing local points on
site and carrying out measurements, the satellites themselves have carried out all the necessary
measurements years or even almost two decades ago. Thus the history of dislocation can be
examined post facto, without on site work or measurement. A further advantage is that there
is no need to request permissions for entering the grounds. What the satellite sees from space
can be investigated regarding its movements. With this method, one can learn of the dislocation history or the stability going back eighteen years until 1992.
Regarding the red mud reservoir, the researchers first investigated the radar images made
by the ASAR sensor of the ENVISAT satellite of the European Space Agency from 2001.
All the images made of the impacted area were drawn into the analyses. The first image was
made in March 2003, while the last one was made one and a half months before the disaster.
The interferometric technology makes it possible to analyse the dislocations occurring between
individual images, and thus the movement of the reflecting surfaces can be condensed in a
time series. Such reflecting surfaces are for example, human structures and buildings. On the
other hand, the surface of agricultural land, forests and fields, as well as water surfaces are
not suitable for the examination of dislocation with the above mentioned sensors. Geometry
is equally an important factor for detection, since it is necessary for reflected signal to arrive
back to the antenna of the satellite. The satellite can measure the movement in the direction
of observation between different moments of taking the pictures.
The satellite follows an orbit approximately North-South in direction. It has a sensor
looking to the right. It sends signals at 23 degrees approximately, and detects reflected waves.
If the configuration is not appropriate, the radar signal will move in a different direction, and
thus will not be detected by the satellites antenna. First images from north to south were
drawn in the investigation. At a later stage of the research, the other direction will also be
investigated. Since reflections can arise from other places in the case of images made from
a different direction. Thus the movement will be analysed regarding more points with more
details, enabling researchers to isolate horizontal from vertical movements.
Within the surface investigated, the researchers managed to identify speed and dislocation
history at more than 15000 points based on the data. The analysis showed that the system
of the red mud reservoir dam has been moving significantly for years. These dislocations
are not only intensive, with their extent reaching and exceeding one centimetre yearly, but
also they are uneven along the dam. Some parts of the dam moved more, others moved less,
and this lead to the building up constant mechanical pressures in the system of the dam.
Large differences of movement concentrated in a small area could equally have resulted
in the fatal rupture and burst of the dam. The dam broke at the point of both the largest
demonstrated movement and the largest differentiated movement. At a distance of 120
metres from the point of rupture, the western dam was almost stable, while its southern part
showed significant dislocations as well. The results of the investigations have demonstrated that
through monitoring the stability of the dam, these movements could have been demonstrated
years ago. Large scale, spatially differentiated dislocations clearly indicated that it was only
a matter of time until this structure bursts and breaks. Thus its stabilisation could have been
provided for. The first data demonstrate that these movements went back as early as 2003. On
31

all the points measured, the history of movements can be reconstructed, going back 7.5 years,
recorded in total in 32 different moments in time.
An investigation going back even further in time could potentially indicate whether
technological interventions in the past similar to the slurry walling mentioned above could
have contributed to the deterioration of the dam and to the formation of sinking leading to
the exertion of shearing stress.
This series of observations provides no information on the dislocations of the northern
dam which was subject to a critical worsening of conditions due to the dam break, since that
structure is not located in a direction suitable for use of the satellite signalling technology.
And thus no meaningful enough reflection arrives back to the satellite antenna. This however
can be helped by another geometry of observation. In the next phases of the investigation,
the distant past will be examined based on radar data going from 1992 to 2000, obtained by
satellites ESR1 and ESR3 of the ESA. The use of a different direction of satellite orbit, and
the examination of satellite images from other frequencies is also planned for. However, the
highest number of observations, with the highest reliability as well as the most detailed time
series are provided by the Envisat satellite presented here.

Conclusions:
The data obtained by the Envisat satellite radars prove that the surroundings of Ajka, Devecser, and Kolontr, as well as the red mud reservoir is generally very stable The points have
a speed of less than 2 mm yearly.
On
the sections of the dam system of red mud reservoir 10, mapped by a series of satellite radar

detection images, the data show significant and large-scale movement with a speed over -1 cm
/ year, in the 2003 to 2010 period. The ENVISAT satellite radar detection direction differs
from the vertical by 25 degrees and from the western direction to the north by 12 degrees
Data show spatially unevenly distributed movement along the dam, which indicates the
continuous build-up of shearing stress within its structure. The series of observations by satellite radar show that the dam parts of which images were made moved to the largest extent
in the past in the north western corner of the reservoir (-12.2 mm yearly, in the direction
of the satellites, - 13.5 mm/year for sheer sinking, and -28 mm yearly for the dam moving
horizontally outwards, i.e. westwards.)
In the dam system of the red mud reservoir Basin 10 showed significant movement observed over the past years, exceeding -12 mm yearly, which equal more than -9 cm dislocation
in the direction of the satellite, if the sinking itself is 10 cm, and the horizontal movement
itself is 10 cm during the 7 and half years observed. These values are much higher than
the margin of error of 0.3 m yearly. The speed and extent of the dislocation are significant
enough to ensure that they could have been detected years ago either through on-site measurements or by space geodetic means.

32

Monitoring the movements of the embankment could have drawn attention to the danger of
a potential rupture in the structure, thus creating an opportunity for prevention.
Once the researchers demonstrated the PSI satellite technology allows remote monitoring
of the deformation, without any field work, not only in the present, but - going back in time,
based on historical data - in the past. This technique makes it unique, and the only one that
can be applied even if the threat is undervalued, the lack of control, or other reasons, measurements have been performed previously.
The results highlight the importance of monitoring and the need for its statutory requirement.

Outlook:
These results were established based on the measurements of ENVISAT satellites. In our
case, they provide the most trustworthy, and the highest number of observations, with the
most detailed time series. Further investigations will shed light on the distant past based on
the data as observed by previous ERS satellites, going back from 2000 until 1992. The data
observed by Envisat satellite, in the other direction of flight, represents an opportunity and
better resolution. And provide more precise knowledge of the spatial direction of movement of
the dam, while also separating the movement components, vertically (sinking) and horizontally.
This entails that the primary focus was on horizontal movement pushing the dam outwards,
and creating pressure at the corners. This horizontal movement was due to the layers of sludge
and water on top of one another. The investigation of the distant past is especially important,
since the communication of MAL Co. Ltd. indicates that the state obliged the company in
1997 to construct a watertight wall around the reservoir. This wall reaches 10 to 18 meters
in depth below the ground, reaching the first impermeable layer, and creates an obstacle to
the natural flow of (ground) waters, thus changing the stability of the soil. The movement of
the dam, which varies in time, could have led to water soaking into the separating layers of
the basin below the ground, making the subsoil watery and loose. The analysis of ERS data
can answer whether the stability and the history of movement of the dam has in fact changed
since the events of 1997.

1.4.2. Outdated technology at MAL Co. Ltd.


Outdated technology at MAL C. Ltd. The burst of a dam is not necessarily catastrophic in its
impact. However, in the Kolontr-Devecser region, the significance of the impact was significant in a global comparison. Clearly, it was the quantity of the escaping material that lead to
a floodlike spill. the height of the flood was defined by the quantity of the water. It was also
related to the destructive impact, given the fact, that the forces at work are proportionate to
the mass of the spill. The dimensions of the flood were much greater than previously expected
in the disaster management plans endorsed by the authorities. The first estimations referred to
spilt material to the extent of 600.000 to 700.000 m3, whereas the data published since estimate
33

900.000 to 1M m3 of spilled material. To the contrary, the disaster management plan only calculated with 300-400.000 m3, (consisting of 200.000 to 3 of water and 50.000-100.000 of red
mud. Working with a minor margin of error, this only equals half or less of the material that
in fact escaped. This entails that if the scenario sketched in the disaster management plan had
been realised, the height of the flooding liquid would have only been half of what was in fact
observed.)
Instead of a flood reaching 2 metres in height some places, the experts only calculated
with a height of one metre, which would have been less dangerous to people. It is also likely
that the extent of the damage wrought would not have been reduced in a linear fashion. But
to a much higher extent, because the water would not have been able to enter so many houses,
and would have flooded a smaller area etc. The larger quantity of water meant that the spilt
liquid and the flood it generated was more diluted and flowed much more easily, which also
contributed to the destructive impact and the size of the forces involved.
It is an equally important question why there was more liquid material in the reservoir.
The construction of slurry walls, built to prevent the contamination of ground waters created
in practical terms a closed pool around the reservoir. Given the fact that the water seeping
away from the reservoir basins as well as the precipitation falling between the banks and the
slurry walls would in the end return to the active basin, due to its alkalinity, entailing, that if
the active plant does not exclude this quantity of water, the whole basin will include more and
more liquid water or solution in the active basin. This extra quantity of water should have been
extracted by the company from the system, and neutralised and channelled into either a natural
river bed or the technological system itself. This measure would have reduced the extent of the
destruction by an order of magnitude at least as far as the loss of human lives is concerned.
Two further facts support the special role of the liquid phase. First of all, at the time
of the second dam break, experts indicated that instead of an escaping flood, what should be
expected will be sludge slowly flowing out, which will not be able to reach the villages. On
the other hand, the government intends, an is fully justified to do so, to force the alumina
plant to switch to a dry disposal technology, which is an admission of sorts that the disposal
technology used increased the risk and the severity of the accident.
It seems that MAL Co. Ltd. did not seriously consider a potential dam break at all, nor
its consequences, since the disaster management plan, as far as we know, deals with this most
important of issues in a rather vague manner. The potential effects, as enumerated, are on
the one hand imprecise, lacking the important depth. Firstly, experts should have calculated
with a potential dam break in any direction. Secondly, they estimated that the sludge would
only be able to reach the village as far as the railway embankment. But even in this case there
does not seem to be a reason for not relocating the residents living between the stream and
the reservoir. And a further point, which contributes to this is as follows. The fact that local
residents received no information and no preparation on what should be done regarding red
mud in case of a potential disaster also makes it likely that the disaster management plan was
in fact unsubstantiated.
If we consider the damage wrought and the other factors which require further investigation then it becomes clear that the reason of such a severe disaster was not the dam break
itself, but the excessive water content of the liquid escaping with the red mud flood. Its sheer
34

volume was about the double or triple of what had been estimated in the disaster management
plan. To this contributed a very strong alkalinity, with a pH value of 12.87. A significantly
smaller quantity of water would have meant an impact lower y at least an order of magnitude
concerning human lives, the damage, and spoiled human livelihoods.

1.5. Civilian concerns and recommendations


NGOs were the first to call the attention of the authorities and the public to the technological and environmental problems of red mud disposal up to the Kolontr accident, not very
successfully.
The Hungarian Aluminium Oxide and Synthetic Corundum Corporation ( MOTIM)
was permitted by the North Transdanubian environmental authority to postpone the recultivation of the red mud basins multiple times, a fact that resulted in finishing it only in 2005,
as opposed to the original deadlines of 1996 and 1997. In 2001 howeverone year before the
termination of aluminium oxide manufacturing, MOTIM inaugurated the highly secure
reservoir basin V., that meets even the most modern requirements. Therefore the company
chose to invest in increasing the retention capacity instead of recultivating the old reservoirs it
had purchased along with the factory facilities and did so right before terminating aluminium
oxideand, by extension, its own red mudproduction.
Three years later, it was with reference to its free capacities that MOTIM applied for the
right to deposit the acidic gas purification mass previously stored in the Budafok cave dwellings,
a project for which the state allotted 1.8 billion Forints. Thus, instead of mitigating the environmental risks, the Mosonmagyarvr aluminium industry company exposed the inhabitants of
the area to an even newer threat whenbesides the manufacturing of synthetic corundum and
fused cast refractoriesit switched over to hazardous waste storing and it did so with the approval of the North Transdanubian Environmental Inspectorate. The environmental protection authority gave MOTIM the aforementioned permit for mitigating the gas purification mass under
strange circumstances. In 2004 the North Transdanubian Environmental Inspectorate issued
the roughly three page permit in a matter of only a few days, whereas the issuance of an average permit typically takes one month long, its contents amounting to twenty-fifty pages. In the
justification part it only features that the acidic and alkaline wastes neutralize each other. The
Mosonmagyarvr Environmental Protection Association contested the resolution however,
as a result of whichpreventing the outbreak of a scandalMOTIM withdrew its request.
On the premises of the previously founded bauxite processing plant MOTIM has used its
red mud basins for storing hazardous wastes ever since, although the governance of Mosonmagyarvr has not been able to get a permit to implement a communal waste landfill in the same
location (because the area lays above an endangered aquifer). Lzr Pavics, the expert from
Clean Air Action Group filed a report with the prosecutors office in this regard in 2006, according to the position of the Gyr-Moson-Sopron County Attorney Generals Office, however
the case did not necessitate prosecution. In its answer the prosecutors office touched on the fact
that following the audit of the Transdanubian Environmental Protection, Nature Conservancy
35

and Water Inspectorate files, it concluded that all of the proceedings and adjudications having
to do with the operation of either MOTIM or its predecessors, were founded and conform with
the judicial rulings valid at those times. Concomitantly, none of the adjudications listed in the
answer letter of the prosecutors office deals with the placement of MOTIMs hazardous waste
storing basins, neither do they discuss in what extent those meet legislations warranting the safety of aquifers. According to the Clean Air Action Groups position, the prosecutors office was
misinformed by the environmental protection authority, presumably following governmental
expectations (in 49 percent the ownership of MOTIM belongs to the Altus Corporation, the
company of the prime minister of the time, Ferenc Gyurcsny).
Otherwise the Clean Air Action Group notified the government as early as 2003, that
the environmental remediation of the reservoirs containing about 30 million tonnes of red
mud was a pressing matter. The organization recommended making a modification to the
Criminal Code according to which the legal person who yields unlawful advantage to the
operation of another, commits crime regardless whether the fact of bribery or other unlawful influencing could be proven. This would be a major step forward in order to put a stop
to the present practice where decision makersstate agencies, civil servants, representative
boardsmake unlawful decisions with no personal consequences. It is that much more urgent, because the anti common interest adjudications that serve the self interest of a few, often
have the argument of the decision, withdrawal only being possible accompanied by compensation, which there is no available budgetary source for.
In regard to the environmental hazards of the Almsfzit waste disposal site the Esztergom Association of Environmental Culture and Vlaszton Foundation strove to step
up to the authorities (see the summary of their concerns in chapter 1.3.2.). Following the Kolontr accident, the organizations involved asked the environmental protection and disaster
relief authorities to perform a special inspection at the Almsfzit tailings reservoir as well as
to inform the public of the potential environmental hazards. They also proposed that tailings
reservoirs and their remediation be controlled by a civilian supervisory committee formed of
local citizens and experts.

1.6. Expert proposals


Professional-expert comments on the accident mainly have to do with licensing of the dam construction, the sturdiness of the dam and its structural engineering problems. Former employees
of the Hungarian Geological Service now being dismantled, proposed for example that at the
time when the now-damaged dam was built, there still existed a geological authority in Hungary
(the Central Office of Geology). Back then, a dam of this size could only be constructed with the
possession of the authoritys licence, therefore the Ajka reservoir would surely have a geological
authority licence as well. The authoritys licence does contain a size reference (height, capacity,
etc.). In 1993 the geological authority ceased existing and in accordance with the mining law, the
Hungarian Geological Service became its official successor, holding an administrative licence.
In 2006 it ceased existing, too, its official successor being the Hungarian Office of Mining and
36

Geology. Thus, at present, the original file is to be found in the archives of this last office. This file
would be important, because based on this it would be clear who violated the licensing order, when
and in what way that person did it. It can be speculated that the environmental protection authority
was not aware of the fact, that for certain cases of dam remodelling (e.g. for elevating the dams
of the reservoir already in use) it would be necessary to have a geological administrative licence.
According to Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Jzsef dm, chair of the
Faculty of Geodesy and Surveying at the Department of Civil Engineering, Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME), looking for the technical causes of the Kolontr
dam rupture belongs primarily to the sciences of the field of civil engineering, secondarily to
the topic of geological sciences. The professors main propositions are the following:
a) The safe operation of such large scale engineering establishments entails the continuous
monitoring of the condition of the establishment. Naturally, this encompasses the continuous examination of the sturdiness and motion testing of the reservoir dams.
b) Geodesic motion testing is indispensable for preventing similar accidents:
For the safe operation of the reservoir (reservoirs) a continuous /repeated/ motion testing is needed.
The frequency of motion testing and the accuracy of measurements (the necessity and
method of operational or strengthening interventions can be decided upon depending on
this, as a result of potential changes in measurements) are to be designed on the basis of
geotechnical experts opinions.
c) As examples to the safe operation of large mechanical establishments, the repeated motion
testing of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, the Danube river bank at Budapest or the valley
dams of water reservoirs in the Mtra Mountains could be mentioned.
d) Todays modern geodesic motion testing methods of measurement (employing conventional
geodesic measuring procedures and the modern satellite techniques, with GPS-method and
satellite radar interferometry) assure detection of changes both in a horizontal and vertical
sense, if necessary, even in the millimetric range of accuracy.
e) For conducting such studies, in Hungary there is an adequate scientific capacity available.
At the Budapest University of Technology and Economics most similar expert tasks are
performed by the faculties of the Department of Civil Engineering. The staff of the Department can give expert answers to questions that concern the planning, calculus, error
detection and motion testing related to the disaster of the dam rupturing.

37

1.7. The role of the authorities


1.7.1. Dismantling the authorities
In 2003 the Clean Air Action Group communicated its position to the government, drawing
attention to the fact that dismantling of authorities as planned at the time would cause a lot
more damage to the state then the benefits it may bring. The Group did not manage to prevent
the process, what is more, it continued. The inspection services were especially severely hit
as an outcome of the austerity measures of the years 2006-2007. Twenty-six environmental
protection organizations protested this step in a joint statement, thatamong other things
contained the followings: Right now, at the environmental protection and nature conservancy
inspectorates there is an average of less than half an hour allotted to a case. Site visits usually
cannot be fit in this amount of time, office workers mostly make their decisions based on the
paperwork turned in. One can imagine how objective the documents may be that are handed
in by those, who have vested interest in the quickest possible realisation of the project or the
avoidance of the environmental protection fines. The Kolontr red mud disaster also proves
just how right they were.
In 2006 the Clean Air Action Group made a study and provided prime minister Ferenc
Gyurcsny with it, describing the situation of the authorities, wherein it concluded the followings:
The government tries to justify the dismantling with budgetary thriftiness. At the same time it
hasnt even estimated the severity of the damage inflicted upon society by the dismantling or the
magnitude of cost assumed by the state, for example due to the increase in disease cases caused
by the complete destruction of natural and cultural assets, the commonwealth and by environmental pollution. Namely the measures were not preceded by any kind of impact assessment,
professional or public debate. (...) Weakness of organs responsible for safety, the enforcement of
laws, is a characteristic of less developed countries. On the other hand, in the most competitive
countries of the world regulations serving safety (environmental and health protection, etc.)
are the most stringent and the conditions of inspection are such, that these regulations can be
enforced. Hungary should not choose Ethiopia, not even Greece as an example to follow, but
rather Scandinavia that is able to sustain a stable economy and society, and that is safe. The
turned-in document did not receive a meaningful answer. The fate was similar of the Protect The
Future Associations study titled Smaller State, Greater Problem, based on its 2007 survey and
that called for attention to the severe dangers lying in the undue situation of the environmental
protection inspectorates. The research done by Protect The Future gave an objective proof to the
flaws of inspections and the softening-up licensing practice as a result of the cut-backs at the
environmental protection authorities.4
An even greater blow than the one of the environmental protection inspectorate was suffered
by the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (NTSZ) that was halved, with the
most experienced experts being removed from (their wages were the highest, thus the biggest
savings could be achieved by firing them). The under-secretary of the time at the Ministry of
Health gave the explanation to these steps by saying that the bureaucratic procedures of the
NTSZ impeded the functioning of businesses. If the laws were indeed bureaucratic, then
4

http://www.vedegylet.hu/index.php?page=news&news_id=651

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the these laws should have been changed. However such changes did not happen obviously
for the reason that the laws assign those duties to the NTSZ, that in the favour of citizens
health and safety it needs to fulfil. The government stepped in against the bureaucracy afflicting
businesses, by not reducing the assigned duties, just the money and the staff ! By doing so the
NTSZ became incapable of taking care of its duties provided by the law. This is what became
apparent during the red mud disaster, when the NTSZ concluded that the Ajka red mud
was non-toxic based on 1987 (!) measurements data. According to this data the sludge has a pH
of 11.8, which is one order of magnitude less than the value of 12.9 pH measured in reality (the
pH shows acidity/alkalinity based on a logarithmic scale, thus the 12.9 pH means an over ten
times stronger lye concentration, than the pH of 11.8). This is how it could happen that the first
up-to-date data following the disaster was not let known to the public by a state institution or
authority, but chiefly from the measurements of an international environmental organizations,
the Greenpeaces office in Hungary.
A modern state cannot do without the state-run inspection organs that function effectively and that are well prepared. As a result of the accelerated scientific-technical and
economic development we have to face an increasing amount of risks. The large number of
new chemical substances, the nuclear products spreading wide, the increasing transportation
capacities, surfacing of the genetically modified products, the operation of the many hazardous industrial facilities constitute such risks, that require severe regulations and authorities
performing their activity on a professionally high level of competence. In Hungary, in recent
times the inspection organsthe environmental protection and nature conservancy authorities, the NTSZ, the hydrological organs, the plant protection service, the traffic monitoring
authorities, the Consumer Protection Main Inspectorate and othershave been dismantled
in an ill-considered way, continuously and at a large scale.
Financial austerities at the state inspection organs cause much larger damages, than the
benefits they bring forth, amounting to: crime increases, societal injustices and tensions grow
stronger, the health status of the citizens and the quality of the environment worsen, the
countrys assessment changes unfavourably, moreover, the state revenue decreases. Dismantling of the inspection organs only favours those, who are striving to bypass legislature. Such
complaints are continuously registered coming not only from the citizens, but those multinational and smaller domestic companies that take regulations seriously, as well.
Undeservingly little attention was given to the fact that authority dismantlings lead to prolonged case processing, a decrease in service quality and to juridical uncertainty. Procedures are
slow, non-transparent, deflecting responsibilities right and left, symptoms which mostly stem
from the overloadedness of the clerks, unpredictability, the constant reorganizing, rationalizing.
The European Union stated even before our accession, that at the environmental protection and nature conservancy local organs there would be a need for more than one thousand
additional employees in order for us to comply with the communitys requirements, whereas
GDP-proportional financing of the domestic environmental protection sector brings up the
rear in the OECD, being approximately at the level of Turkey as it was also shown by a
Protect The Future-study.5 On the contrary, since then, staff of these organs has been decrea5

http://www.poltudszemle.hu/szamok/2008_3szam/2008_3_javor.pdf

39

sed continuously and the process only stopped in the last one or two years. Presently, at the
environmental protection inspectorates a case is often allotted only a few minutes to be taken
care of. Apart from few exceptions, the individual cases are approved without considerate
review. Year after year, citizens complaints arriving to the civil organizations are more and
more numerous. Illegal waste disposal, the different activities that pollute the air and emit
substantial noise, green area destructions are often due to the lack of authority inspections
and measurements, as well as the fact that on-site inspections have become extremely rare
and the quality of those is not always adequate because of the overloadedness of the employees. Delay of cases also happens frequently, which may discourage honest investors. Even
certain leaders of the previous environmental protection ministry stressed it occasionally as
an important consideration, that authorities shall not be in the way of them, but rather help
business activities as smoothly as possible, referring to the fact that they do not need to fully
comply with environmental laws.
The situation is especially worrisome in the activity of the building authorities. According
to the Green Economic Stimulus, the study put together by the Llegzet Foundation in 2010,
right nowas a caricature of the statev21 people are inspecting constructions in Hungary,
out of which ten percent are inspected (the European average is sixty percent). Giving building
permits out is the competence of the clerk and the departments of building authorities. The
latter ones however cannot be regarded independent of the local governance, the mayor. This
practice takes an expensive apparatus and at the same timeespecially in the jurisdiction of
the smaller governancesthe adequate expertise is not assured. It is very common, that they
administer building processes where regulations are infringed upon and they fail to represent
the interest of the public versus the infringing builders. From societal and national economy
standpoint the danger runs at least this high, that the infringing constructions too often are
not stalled and they are not inspected adequately. Edifices built unlawfully, are practically never
brought down. The reason behind failing to deconstruct is often simply financial governances
do not have the money to prepay for the official deconstructions, the costs of which are only
redeemable later as it was stated by the 2nd report of Protect The Futures Representation of
Future Generations program in 2001.6
Local governances get numerous tasks as environmental protection authority of first instance (permitting related to woody plants, air protection authority, building authority, etc.),
that legislation deploys to the clerk, who typically delegates related duties to the environmental
protection department or the executive. It is especially true about these organs that in many places
the needed expertise is not available and on top of all, due to the local connections and system
of influences, the chance for biasedness, in more severe cases corruption, is quite significant. In
many instances governances themselves are interested (e.g. via the local taxes) in carrying out
certain environmentally burdensome projects, that also elevates the risks of corruption.

http://www.vedegylet.hu/doc/jonek_2.pdf

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The study of the Breath Foundation spelled out some recommendations as for how to
strengthen the activity of authorities, too:
The practice of environmental protection licensing has to be made more strict. In cases of projects that take up huge masses of land, attract heavy loads of traffic, not to be possible for the
environmental protection authority to come to such absurd conclusions as the one saying that
the project does not have significant environmental impacts.
In the cases of projects, the practice of impact zone delineation should be changed, broadened. So that thereafter it could not happen for example, that the impacts of a linear
construction project generating significant traffic across a huge area are only assessed right
alongside the new trace.
The correctness of the key elements, measurements of the case study and impact assessment
documentations handed in by the investor, should be assessed by the authority with the revision of the inspectorate in every instance.
Both the available financial and human resources have to be expanded at the environmental
protection, nature conservancy and hydrological inspectorates, the hydrological boards and
the nature conservancy watch. Furthermore, a transparent organizational framework should
be created that assures the most effective use of resources possible. For operating the environmental protection authorities, the best practical experiences should be implemented from the
extremely rich international specialized literature. First, for instance, the recommendations
made by Impel (European Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law) should be naturalized in the domestic practice.
It needs to be specified in law, that the environmental protection, nature conservancy and
hydrological authorities cannot hire an independent expert in a specialty issue that belongs
to their area of competence. Expert opinions requested from partner authorities, the specialized authoritys position and the own experts have to provide sufficient professional background for the decision making.
The process in which authorities regard civil organizations expressing an opinion about their
procedures as obstacles, instead of seeing the participants in improving effectiveness, the quality level of professional decisions and the social acceptance of those, needs to be reversed.
Public hearings related to environmental protection licensing procedures always need to be
held after work hours, at the closest possible location to the planned project, in order to allow
as many people as possible to participate (at the moment in many cases efforts are reversed).

41

1.7.2. Lax authorities, lack of inspections


Based on the waste management law in effect, it is the MAL Co. Ltd. that had to have its
waste management (including the storing technology) revised, which took place in 2003. The
company contested the environmental protection operation licence received during the
licensing procedure, because the environmental protection authority of first instance ordered treating of the red mud as hazardous waste.
The environmental protection inspectorate of territorial jurisdiction, on July 22nd 2003
transferred the documentations to the Main Inspectorate in order for the Main Inspectorate
to confirm the fact of hazardousness or the oppositeaccording to the rules of the time. The
answer sent to the Inspectorate by the Main Inspectorate (OKVF) on January 16th 2004, said
that the pertaining legislationGovernment decree; 98/2001. (VI.15.) about the conditions of
activities related to hazardous wasteswas modified in its 4. According to this, the producer
of the waste is responsible for classifying its waste. That being said, the OKVF redirected
the case to the inspectorate. (i. [Case identification number] 30 010-61/2004 p.10). By this
time, based on the information about the technology and the test results, the Inspectorate did
not oppose the classification of the waste as non-hazardous any more, thus the environmental
protection operation licence was born.
The licensing procedure had some arguable points, however. The Main Inspectorate had
not made a decision in this case for over 5 months. (Based on the Administrative proceedings
law (e.1957/IV.tv.) in effect in 2003, the deadline would be 30 days in the second instance,
too, but neither does the 43 (1) of the Waste management law (Hgt.2000/43.tv) allow for
longer deadline than 90 days). It was during this period that the extremely important change
in the government decree took place, aforementioned above. The 98/2001. (VI.15.) Government decree stipulates the conditions of activities involving hazardous waste as follows: Classification of wastes not featured in the waste catalogue, those ones not possible to be featured
there or wastes the consistence of which is unknown, therefore hazardous wastes needs to be
requested through the Main Inspectorate. This changed as of December 4th 2003: according
to the 16/2001. (VII.18.) Ministry of the Environment (KM) decree, the company classifies
itself. It was then, that based on the decree the red mud was moved to code 01 03 09 EWC
from 01 03 07 (07 is the group of hazardous wastes associated with metal ore mining and
with treatment of such mining materials). Based on the documentation sent in by MAL Co.
Ltd., the Inspectorate accepted the reclassification, this way the red mud of MAL Co. Ltd.
became non-hazardous waste.
The change happened following the recognition of the fact that the environmental protection authority ever shrinking in its staff and financial instruments, did not have sufficient
capacity for the inspection activity. Thus the inspection of the red mud reservoir basins was not
of proper scale either, since the authority (would have) had to perform random re-inspection
of countless other, air pollution, air burdening, water quality data provision.

42

Based on the environmental protection licence, MAL Co. Ltd. also had to provide the
Inspectorate with the data and documents listed below:
a) annual summary report of the operation of the waste disposal site by April 30th following
the current year, including the status description of the waste disposal site, data about sinking of the waste disposal site level, the results of underground water testing.
b) water quality studies as part of the monitoring system, on quarter, half year basis at the
specified wells, as well as water level observations, also by April 30th.
The licence prescribed MAL further reporting, revision, operational, managerial obligations from the monitoring wells to sound protection, data that is also the responsibility of the
authority to inspect. The company had the obligation to report to the environmental protection
inspectorate all changes listed in the licence, the day following the observation. (Meeting this
obligation, was also the authoritys duty to inspect.)
On February 17th 2006, the aluminium oxide sector of MAL received an integrated environmental permit (MAL-EKE) from the inspectorate (valid through February 28th 2011).
This licence included (sz. 10897/05) the dilution method using reclaimed water and lifting
the water into basin X. Points 9.xx and 11.xx deal with the issues of waste management, and
also cover the report of change obligation. The issue of the reservoir the licence does not touch
upon any more, delegating that into the competence of local building affairs.
Ensuing the Kolontr accident, the Society of Conservationists of Eastern Hungary
initiated a criminal complaint at the Supreme Court against an unknown perpetrator or
perpetrators in suspicion of reckless endangerment due to professional negligence resulting
in manslaughter. According to the legal position of the civilian organization, the environmental protection authority concerned, according to the ruling of the 22 (3) of Government
decree 314/2005. (XII.25.) about the environmental impact assessment and the integrated
environmental usage licensing, during its on-site inspection performed on September 23rd
2010, did not do justice to the 219/2004. (VII.21.) Government decree about the protection
of underground water tables and to the pertaining instructions of the 2001/331/EK (2001.
IV.4.) proposal about determining the minimum requirements of environmental protection
inspections conducted in the member states (in other words it did not perform a veritable
inspection, resorting to the data provision of the operator).
Following the accident, Politics Can Be Different (LMP) immediately brought up the
issue of authorities responsibility as well. According to the position of the ecological party,
both the flaws in the Hungarian and the Union regulations played role in what made the
disaster possible. In the European Union the bauxite residues (red mud)the solid phaseis
not considered hazardous waste, in Hungary however, based on their alkalinity resulting from
the employed technology, they are clearly to be listed among hazardous wastes. (It is worth
mentioning here, that the solution phase accompanying the bauxite residues that leave the
aluminium oxide factory have a pH exceeding 11.5, not only in Hungary, but in other parts
within the EU as well.) In practice, however, authorities adapt the softer regulatory threshold
in our country, too, treating red mud as non-hazardous waste.
43

LMP also pointed out that alongside the potential technical causes, the accident clearly
raises the inadequacy of the administrative inspection, too: the environmental protection inspectorate does not have the competence of performing structural engineering examinations
and not even weeks after the dam rupturing was it obvious which authority would have the
duty to examine the technical status of the similar dams. Based on the final decision of the
Capital High Court in December 2010, the waste can be rendered harmless by depositing the
red mud and the creation of the waste disposal site requires integrated environmental permit.
The ruling closed up the competency dispute of the Central Transdanubian Environmental
Protection, Nature Conservancy and Water Inspectorate versus the clerk of Devecser. The court
did not challenge the fact that the regulation is ambiguous, but stated: based on the ruling
currently in effect, the red mud reservoirs undoubtedly belong under the effect of the waste
management law. Such a structure can be built only by complying with the rulings of the
specialized legislation and with the licence of the environmental protection authority. One of
the conditions is to undergo the procedure necessary to be given the integrated environmental
permit, that clearly belongs to the competence of the environmental protection inspectorate,
according to the high court. From the order it becomes apparent, that the clerk exercising the
power of general building affairs authority, does not have any duty in relation to such establishments whatsoever. Nonetheless, following the disaster, the inspectorate still conjured the
clerk to conduct the administrative procedure, who refused to act, however, arguing that he
did not have the competence.
In LMPs opinion, the inspection permits of the green authority that has been systematically weakened throughout the past years need to be strengthened, which requires both legal
measures and staff expansion. The case warrants a Union level revision of the environmental
protection regulation system of the state of Hungary (and presumably of the other states in the
region). In the case of high environmental risk industrial operations, a system of mandatory
financial collaterals and liability insurances has to be implemented that conform with the EUguidelines that pertain to environmental responsibility. The system of environmental protection
licensing and revision also has to be transformed. Finally, at the level of the European Union
there is a need to create a guideline governing the mandatory liability insurances of hazardous industrial plants, as well as the establishing of shared funds filled by the deposits of the
hazardous industrial plants and aimed for covering those damages that otherwise (based on
the insurances and the damaging companies assets) could not be paid for.
The same opinion was shared by the European Commission in its stand at the beginning
of December, according to which the red mud that flooded Devecser and Kolontr should
have been classified hazardous waste (that is, Hungarian authorities let the MAL Corporation
operate based on erroneous licences).
Following cautioning of the Union, the ecological party demanded a thorough and unbiased investigation to find out what professional errors were committed in the licensing procedure. Earlier, LMP had already drawn the attention to the fact that for the event of the red
mud disaster not only the MAL Corporation is to be held responsible, but all of the authorities
concerned, furthermore the legislation in effect and the governments that had failed to create
the adequate legislation since 1995. In the instance of the authorities, it is incomprehensible,
how they could give out licence in 2006 for regular waste disposal in the case of a material
44

having a pH of 13. The Basel Convention is clearly classifying bauxite residues (the red mud)
hazardous waste, as long as their pH is higher than 11.5. This criteria features exclusively
in relation to the red mudnot surprisingly, based on this, the European Commission also
came to the conclusion that the red mud causing the disaster is considered hazardous by
the European Waste Catalogue (EWC), therefore the Hungarian authorities committed
an error when they did not classify it as hazardous waste.
LMP believes that it is the responsibility of governments of the past fifteen years, that as
a result of the continuous changes dotted with cut-backs and dismantlings inflicted upon the
administrative system, such an administrative system has been created that is insecure even
in its own competencies, that is weak, susceptible to political influencing and that practically
does not have on-site presence. In relation to this case, the ecological party called upon the
government once again, to strengthen the administrative system, to bring to a halt the political
influence and to lead a thorough and unbiased investigation of the red mud disaster, naming
those found responsible.

45

Summary
It is not possible to account for the Kolontr red mud disaster by means of a single cause.
Among the potential causes and preceding events, the following should by all means be noted:
The conditions of privatisation: it was with reference to the obligations of environmental protection that the buyer was able to acquire the Ajka Aluminium plant at a very low
price. However, these obligations were not properly regulated within the contract, and
there were also gaps in monitoring implementation. Moreover, the authorities allowed
on more than one occasion for the owner to postpone meeting these obligations.
Deficiencies in monitoring environmental damage control: the privatisation contracts contained an obligation to provide for environmental damage-limitation, but the
monitoring of how this was implemented was deficient. No detailed documentation is
available, except for written records to the effect that invoices were presented as evidence
for compliance without technical inspection having taken place;
Outdated disposal technology: when the first red mud reservoirs were established, the
technology of wet disposal for red mud was still widespread, but much safer dry processes were already available by the time the permit for Basin X was granted, and the
integrated environmental permit for the reservoir was granted;
Inappropriate classification of red mud waste: when the integrated environmental permit
was granted, red mud was not classified as hazardous waste, even though it clearly counted
as such on the basis of its pH value under the Hungarian and EU legislation then in force;
Licensing and monitoring malpractice on the part of administrations: following the
disaster, a court ruling was required to clarify which authority should have granted a
permit for the dam building at the reservoir and carried out structural engineering inspection of the built structure;
The sinking of the dam (which could also be related to posterior slurry walling): satellite images clearly show that the barrier sank in certain places at a rate of 1 cm / year,
creating maximum shear stress precisely at the section where the dam finally broke,
while the sinking itself might have occurred because of the slurry walling, or because of
the dam base and subsoil becoming soaked due to the slurry walling. However, no use
was made of the satellite imagery in the structural engineering inspection of the dam,
even though they were continuously available; neither was the stability of the structure
monitored in any other way.
Negligence on the part of the authorities and government officials: several NGOs had
previously protested about the lack of environmental protection developments and the failure to carry out inspections. Their comments had no practical consequences at all.
46

Recommendations
Privatization documents of the industrial plants with great environmental risks, the environmental protection compliances and the inspection thereof all have to be revised. In
the event that a clear connection is shown between the improper privatization practice
and the large increase of the environmental risks, then the personal responsibility also
has to be investigated among the participants of the privatization process.
The licensing practice of the environmental protection authorities has to be revised, with
special attention to industrial processes resulting in large amounts of hazardous waste,
to the disposal of hazardous wastes, to the integrated environmental permits relating
to these and within the IPPC guidelines to the enforcement of the BAT instructions.
In the case of authorities taking part in (and those avoiding taking part in) the inspection and licensing, the exact institutional and personal responsibilities need to be
investigated.
It needs to be assessed whether the administrative capacity presently at hand is proportionate to the truly existing industrial hazards and the inspection demands relating to
them, as well as the institution system needs to be reinforced where justified.
There is need for regulation to be passed specifying the frequency of structural engineering and environmental safety inspections of similar structures and the distribution
system of responsibilities (see the pertaining LMP bill).
In order to prevent similar disasters, client rights of the civil organizations have to be
strengthened, not taken away.

47

Smaller buildings were crushed


by force of the current

2. An account of the accident


2.1. Chronology of the accident
4 October 2010
At 12 25 pm, the barrier of the caustic waste reservoir breaks in the vicinity of Ajka, a town
located in Veszprm county, at a distance of about 160 km from Budapest. The red mud reaches
the municipalities of Devecser, Kolontr, Somlvsrhely, Somljen, Tskevr, Apcatorna
and Kisberzseny. Devecser and Kolontr experience the greatest devastation. (In the following
days, the red mud contaminates the Torna creek and the valley of river Marcal, almost reaching the river Rba. The red mud contaminates the valleys of the Torna creek and the Marcal
river, almost reaching the river Rba. Through the Torna, Marcal, Rba and the Moson branch
of the Danube, the alkaline slurry enters the Danube, causing some extent of destruction in
all the affected waters. Along the Torna and the impacted section of Marcal, practically all
aquatic life is destroyed. The disaster leaves 10 people dead and almost 150 slightly or severely
injured, including local residents and the participants in the rescue operations. The spilt mud
48

and alkaline slurry pollutes about 1.000 acres of land. The amount of the emitted is was about
0.91 million cubic meters.)
Fire-fighters reach the scene in about 8 minutes and start rescuing the inhabitants trapped
or injured, amounting to about 60 victims in Kolontr and nearly 720 people in Devecser.
Minister of the Interior Sndor Pintr and Gyrgy Bakondi, the director of the National
Directorate General for Disaster Management immediately travel to the scene.
The commanding unit of the Directorate for Disaster Management is set up by 2 pm. The
Local Defence Committee starts to operate.
Action is taken immediately to accommodate the inhabitants whose homes have been flooded.
Accommodation is organised for 40 people in Kolontr, while temporary night shelters are put
up for 500 people in Devecser. Only 31 of the night shelters are used since the vast majority
of affl icted chose to lodge with relatives and friends in neighbouring villages.
The Directorate for Disaster Management (OKF) sends four members of the Crisis Intervention Team to the scene to provide mental health care and manage the rescue operations.
At 4 pm on 4 October 2010, the regional offices of the Central Agricultural Office declare a ban
on fishing and hunting. Sales and use of contaminated fodder and food is prohibited through an
official intervention by the Chief Veterinary Officer.

5 October 2010
In order to protect the water quality of the Marcal River and to prevent pollution of the
Danube, the calcium nitrate and magnesium nitrate delivered on the scene is deployed in the
river by fire fighters and military forces under the supervision of water management professionals from early dawn.
340 people are mobilised and deployed on the scene by the Police. Acting on oral instruction,
the Army arrives on the scene as well.
Shipping the collected pollutants starts back to the premises of the company having caused
the incident, into an intact basin.
Secretary of State for the Environment Zoltn Ills suspends production at MAL Co. Ltd.
with immediate notice, simultaneously ordering the company to start restoring the reservoir
damaged in the area of Ajka. The Ministry of the Interior calls upon the company to allocate
HUF 100.000 as emergency aid to the each owner whose homes have been damaged.

49

The Prime Minister requests the Minister of the Interior to investigate the issue of personal
and material liability. The Government calls on the Minister for Rural Development to assess the damage to producers to and its consequences. The Ministry for Rural Development
initiates a revision of other similar red mud reservoirs until 15 October.
The Army and the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (NTSZ) assess
radiological threats. Both laboratories conclude that there is no hazardous radiation exposure
in the area.
With the cooperation of the Central Agricultural Office, the collection and disposal of
animal carcasses starts.
The Veszprm County Defence Commission decides to ban the consumption of contaminated
food products and animal feeds, as well as on involving public workers and municipal forces
in the works in the municipalities.

6 October 2010
The disaster is discussed as the first item on the agenda of the Government meeting. The
comprehensive report of the Minister of the Interior is heard. The government declares a state
of emergency.
The Minister of the Interior announces that the Police will give first priority to investigating the
issue of liability. The investigation is to be taken over by the National Bureau of Investigation.
Professionals address the problem of alkaline red mud escaped from the reservoir at Kolontr
flowing into the Marcal river. The Minister of the Interior states that round the clock, 24
hour long guards or monitoring shall be started on the dam of the reservoir.
The government announces that staying in Hungary is completely safe, the collapse of the dam
in no way threatens people and tourists. The disaster of the sludge reservoir is local, without
the risk of adverse health effects outside the impacted areas.
As a consequence of the disaster, the Government Accountability Commissioner speeds up the
investigation regarding MAL Co. Ltd., the owner of the alumina plant. For the time being, information is gathered on the contracts concluded between the group and the state in recent years.
The Army constructs a temporary bridge to replace the bridge destroyed at Kolontr. The
maintenance of the replacement bridge will be continually secured.

50

At a press conference by the Government Spokesperson, the Minister of the Interior states
that the professionals are able to treat the alkalinity of the red mud released from the reservoir
in the Marcal River.
Benedek Jvor, the President of the Sustainable Development Committee of the Parliament,
delegated by LMP, investigates conditions at Kolontr and Devecser. At a local press conference he urges the Minister for National Development to disclose the privatization contracts
of the Ajka plant.

7 October 2010
Early in the morning, the Prime Minister conducts inquiries about the situation on the
ground. He walks along the streets among the destroyed houses of Kolontr, personally
assessing the damage wrought by the red mud flooding the village on Monday afternoon.
He ensures the injured that they will not be left alone. The elimination of damage in the
surrounding damaged or partially destroyed homes is carried out depending on whether
their owners declare they are willing later to remain in their houses or the flooded district.
At 3 pm, the County Defence Commission meets in Devecser, followed by a residential
hearing with the participation of the county director of disaster management.
Sanitary tents are set up by the government in Devecser and Kolontr in order to ensure
that the participants in the rescuing operations in direct contact with the material may immediately be washed, while they are still wearing the protective garments.
The Kolontr fish pond is drained in the hope of finding the three missing persons, but the
bodies are not found.
The three-part dam designed to stop further leakage from the damaged basin is constructed.
A new reservoir is built to store the collected sludge and debris.
The National Directorate of Disaster Management entrust experts from Kroly Rbert College, Gyngys to carry out aerial damage assessment of the areas flooded with red mud as
a result of the breaking of the dam of the Ajka caustic waste reservoir.
The National Bureau of Investigation initially stated they the original investigation into
the suspected crime of reckless endangerment due to professional negligence resulting in
manslaughter was reclassified as endangerment due to professional activities resulting in a
lethal mass disaster.
The Army constructs a temporary bridge to replace the bridge destroyed at Kolontr. The
maintenance of the replacement bridge will be continually secured.
51

More gypsum is deployed in order to uphold protection and to mitigate alkalinity at Kolontr
village, followed by Devecser and Somlvsrhely, the Marcal, and the bridge of the public
road connecting the settlement of Szergny and Vinr.
Fidesz MEP Jnos der proposes the establishment of an EU disaster fund at the plenary
session of the European Parliament in Brussels.

8 October 2010
Gypsum is spread from the air at Marcal. This water is further diluted with water from the
Rba and the Moson branch of the Danube, only entering the Danube at this stage. Further
water quality problems and adverse health effects are not expected.
After cleaning the residential areas, mitigation starts in the peripheral areas of the towns
flooded by red mud.
At 6 am on 8 October, a pH value of 8.8 is registered at the Petfi Bridge section of the River
Rba, and a pH value of 8.34 is registered at the Szchenyi Bridge section of the Moson
branch of the Danube. Measured pH levels reach 8.5 at the point where the Marcal meets
the Rba, and approx. pH 8 on the Danube. Along the Marcal, pH below 9.0 is reported at
several measuring points. No further fish death is observed on the impacted river sections.
The water management agency continually measures water pH values at the Budapest Danube
section, but so far there is no indication of increase. Thus it is not likely that the contamination would reach the capital.
Eighty police officers constantly maintain safety in the disaster-stricken area and emergency
ambulance teams continue the search for missing people.
A mentsben 400 ember s tbb szz munkagp vesz rszt.

9 October 2010
The evacuation of residents from Kolontr, in a state of emergency, is ordered impacting a total
of 715 people, as The dam of Basin 10 of the Ajka reservoir weakened further during the night.

12 October 2010
The construction of the third protective barrier is constructed at Kolontr to keep the resident
safe. In Devecser, the location of new residential block is identified, to be constructed for
those who used to live in the areas flooded with red mud flooded.
52

13 October 2010
The number of deaths in the disaster reaches nine, as on of the injured dies in the Ajka
hospital. The evacuation order is lifted after the construction of the new barrier in Kolontr
safeguards the security of the residents of Devecser.

15 October 2010
The first of the residents evacuated can move back to Kolontr.

2.2. Further risks


2.2.1. Another dam break
In the analysis of further risks, the question of the causes of the dam break need to be answered.
Equally, an answer needs to be given to the question of why it has led to so severe consequences,
and whether it might be repeated in the future. As shown in the previous chapter, it was the
dimensions of the material spilled that resulted in a real flood in the case of the Kolontr
disaster. Similar dam breaks have never happened in the field of alumina production. This at
least partially explains that the expected impact was underestimated in the disaster management plan. Furthermore, the fact that the risk of a potential further dam break could not be
estimated with significant precision in the days following the disaster can also be accounted for
by the unprecedented nature of the accident. For this reason, the construction of a system of
barriers was begun between Basin 10 and the flooded communities, the function of which has
still not been entirely clarified. According to explanations given afterwards, what the experts
were concerned about was not the fear that further quantities of sludge would leave Basin 10.
The probability of such a turn of events was not significant for there was only the solid phase
that is, a mass of limited mobility left within the reservoir. Instead, they were concerned that
the wall shared by Basin 10 and Basin 9 would break. As the letter was equally filled to the
brim with liquid, the fact that the spilled sludge was not there anymore meant that the wall
of was left without support from the direction of Basin 10. At the same time, the barrier construction works continued even after a significant reduction of water levels in Basin 9, thus
reducing the risk of the dam breaking.

2.2.2. Resuming production without a change of technology


The examination of the causes of deaths, health injuries and other consequences made it clear
that the dimension of the disaster was not due to the dam break but rather to too much water
being present in the escaping red mud flood. A significantly lesser quantity of water would have
resulted in much more limited damage as far as both human lives and damages are concerned.
Arguably, the effects and impact would have been smaller by several orders of magnitude and
53

it is likely that no loss of life would have occurred if the flood wave had been only half as high.
At first sight it is not easy to understand how the authorities could have permitted production
to be resumed with the same wet disposal technology especially with regard to the fact that
according to the first declarations, the plant had only a limited capacity for disposal, barely
enough for a few weeks or one or two months at most. With hindsight, the primary reason
for that seems to be related to the intention to avoid the plant getting into an untenable situation and losing its markets. Thus environmental and environmental security considerations
have played a limited part in the decision making process. At the same time it is a fact that
simultaneously with resuming production, the company started to take preliminary steps to a
shift to the dry depositing technology.

2.3. The health and environmental impacts of the disaster


2.3.1. The chemical background of the disaster
Alumina (technically: pure aluminium oxide), is almost exclusively produced from bauxite
worldwide. Bauxite mined in Hungary (excluding the moisture absorbed) contains approx.
50% of aluminium oxide (Al 2O3) mostly in the form boehmite, and approx 20% of iron oxide
(Fe2O3). Further basic constituents include SiO2 and oxides of other metals, such as titanium
ores. The colour red is due to the iron (III) oxide content. In order to produce alumina from
bauxite, the first step should be to separate hydrated aluminium oxide (boehmite) from the
other components. This process of extraction is secured by relatively concentrated NaOH
(caustic soda). Boehmite (AlO(OH)) is chemically soluble in the alkali while iron (III) oxide
is not. As a first approximation, the other components of bauxite do not interact with alkali
(except clay minerals).
The dissolution of boehmite in NaOH is not actually a process of physical dissolution,
but a chemical reaction: water-soluble sodium aluminate is formed as an effect of the high
temperature (240C) and high OH- concentration.
After the alkaline extraction, the solution (i.e. the solution of the sodium aluminate compound) is separated by sedimentation form the essentially insoluble bauxite residue (red mud).
The solution is cooled, thereby becoming highly saturated in aluminium hydroxide, then the
bulk of the aluminium hydroxide is crystallised. The aluminium hydroxide (hydrated alumina)
is removed by calcination, thereby producing alumina. And as the extraction is performed with
a relatively highly concentrated alkaline solution, the alkaline content of the solution phase
accompanying the red mud upon separating the residual bauxite is equally high.By means of
a multi-step counter-current water ablution process (7 steps at Ajka), the alkaline concentration of the accompanying solution is reduced to approx. 1/40 of the original value (typically,
less than 0.5% NaOH level).
The solution phase accompanying the washed red mud has is alkaline, with pH values in
the range 12 to 13, thus it is a fairly strong base.
Today, the red mud is not used anywhere in Hungary. As it contains little aluminium
oxide (15-19%), its iron content is higher than that of bauxite, therefore, in principle, it could
be used in iron production. Even though the manufacturing process is available in theory, it
54

is nevertheless not used. The reason is that it is still significantly more expensive and energy
intensive than producing iron from mined ores. Thus it is dumped as non useful waste in
reservoirs, and stored there until better days come.
Red mud is not classified as hazardous waste in Hungary, even though it clearly is hazardous due to its alkalinity. The water generated in the course of the sedimentation of red mud
in the wet disposal process used at Ajka is mostly put to technological use. The utilization
of useful ingredients by the manufacturer or operator is required by law in any case. As the
bauxite residue (red mud) is not as yet the raw material of any other process, whatever is done
to it appears as no more than wasted costs for the aluminium industry. Therefore it remains
in the reservoirs. The reservoirs are typically recultivated, that is, covered with a surface organic
material, such as sewage sludge, and an attempt is made to grow plants on top.

2.3.2. Environmental and health eects of the disaster


a) Exposure to a highly alkaline solution causes severe, potentially fatal injuries. Strong alkali
dissolves the layer of fatty suet protecting the skin, and loosens the epidermis. This way, the
internal tissues become unprotected. The dissolution of the oily substance secreted by the
sebaceous gland is identical with the process traditionally used for making soap. Boiled in
alkali (to speed up the process), the fat (glyceryl ester formed with palmitine, stearine and
oleic acid) hydrolyzes and glycerol and soap are produced. The soap produced also helps
to dissolve the fatty substances left over.
b) Strong alkalinity causes severe damage to tissues. As a result of high pH, proteins are
denatured (including enzymes) and various cell membranes are destroyed (cell membrane,
mitochondria, chloroplasts, etc.) thus the damaged cell tissues die.
c) Red mud contains traces of toxic metals. Certain metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead
are highly toxic because they are deposited in the body connected to proteins and change the
structure and functioning of vital proteins before long. The largest part of toxic metals are
heavy metals, (with a density higher than 5g/cm3), not because they are heavy, but because
their atomic structure enables them to make strong bonds with certain protein molecules.
There is a debate about whether red mud from Ajka contains toxic metals at dangerous
concentrations. According to measurements conducted by the Chemical Research Institute
of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, samples of red mud taken in the region of Kolontr
and Devecser have concentration levels lower, sometimes significantly lower than sewage
sludge limit values for cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, lead and zinc (http://mta.hu/
mta_hirei). We have no reason to contest these test results. However, we have to think of
what reason the researchers had to compare the composition of red mud to be found in the
homes and gardens, and when inhaled, the lungs of the residents, to limit values of sewage
sludge. Normally, the average citizen does not encounter sewage sludge. We do not tread in
it, not even in rubber boots, we do not sweep it from the corner of our rooms, neither do we
use it to water garden vegetables or inhale its dust. Thus the point of reference is mistaken.
From the point of view of human health, concentration is not the real issue. What is, however
55

is whether living organisms (plants, animals, humans) are exposed to these heavy metals,
considered toxic. In this regard, test results published by MTA (relating to solutions in water
and ammonium acetate of 4,5 ph value ) fail to provide sufficient answers.
d) Red mud entering rivers and the soil has a highly alkaline ph level that needs to be neutralised
or at least mitigated. Acidic substances are suitable for this goal. In practice, acidic acid and
sulphuric acid was used. For neutralization or mitigation purposes, gypsum (CaSO4) was
also used, spread in the contaminated area. Gypsum was poured in the Torna creek and the
Marcal river in the emergency circumstances. Caustic soda and acidic acid react to form
sodium acetate. This substance hydrolyzes in an alkaline manner, but it is much less alkaline
than the original sodium hydroxide was. Gypsum is suitable for neutralising because CaSO4
though, it is a salt dissolving badly in water, still enters Ca 2+ ions in the system. In the presence of such a high OH ion concentration, based on the - the products of solubility - the
Ca(OH)2 dissolves even worse than the gypsum does. Thus, part of OH ions , responsible
for alkalinity react with Ca 2+-ions to form a precipitation, and this decreases the alkalinity.
e) What happens to the spilled red mud once it dries up? The dry dustlike substance can be
carried by the wind, and be inhaled by organisms. When inhaled, the red mud causes the
same damage as it does to the skin, only more severe, since the breathing surface of the lung
is far more delicate and vulnerable. This is why the residents moving back into the area were
forced to wear dust filter masks as well as the participants in the rescue operation. The dried
dust is a potential alkali since NaOH present in the original solution phase is contained in
small crystalline form, thus the inhaled dust immediately creates a strong alkali reacting with
the water content of the lungs. In order to reduce the formation of dust in the contaminated
area, calcium chloride powder was originally planned to be scattered, as it has an absorbent
quality, extracting moisture from the air to prevent the spilled red mud from drying out.
The CaCl 2 is hygroscopic, i.e. absorbs humidity, thus a solid crystalline material gradually
liquidifies (i.e. is transformed into a concentrated solution). Moreover, this salt is hydrolyzed
in slightly acidic manner, neutralizing the lye to a limited extent.

56

Summary
The accident took place at 12:25 pm on 04. 10. 2010. The red mud spill following the
dam break reached the municipalities of Devecser, Kolontr, Somlvsrhely, Somljen,
Tskevr, Apcatorna and Kisberzseny. The red mud contaminated the valleys of the
Torna creek and the Marcal river, almost reaching the river Rba. Through the Torna,
Marcal, Rba and the Moson branch of the Danube, the alkaline slurry entered the
Danube, causing destruction in all the affected waters. Along the Torna and the impacted
section of Marcal, practically all aquatic life was destroyed.
The disaster left 10 people dead and almost 150 slightly or severely injured, including
local residents and the participants in the rescue operations.
The spilt mud and alkaline slurry polluted about 1,000 acres of land. The amount of the
emitted pollutants was about 0.91 million cubic meters.
The fact that the devastation wrought by the dam break significantly exceeded the expected impact as specified in the disaster management plan can be accounted for in
physical terms by the exceedingly large water content of the slurry stored in Basin X, and
from a chemical perspective by the alkalinity of the spilt liquid, which approached pH
13. The relatively high concentration of metals (arsenic, mercury, etc.) in the pollutant
mix has also presented further health and environmental problems.

Recommendations
Based on the experience of the Kolontr accident and the inundation models derived
from it, the disaster management plans for facilities with high environmental risk should
be urgently and thoroughly revised.
Differentiated limit values for metals and other toxic substances need to be established
with respect to soils contaminated through industrial activity (mining, ore processing,
chemical industry, galvanic industry, leather manufacturing etc) and accidents. These
limit values shall also be adapted to later land use. Breaking with current practice, these
requirements should ensure that it is not only sewage sludge related limit values that are
used as benchmarks when assessing environmental health risks or fulfilling recovery
objectives.
When the occurrence of an accident proves that a given technology is hazardous, general regulation should be adopted to ensure that no permission is granted to resume the
industrial activity unless the technology used is significantly modified in a way that effectively reduces the environmental risks entailed.

57

Alkaline slurry among the houses


is soil replacement the solution?

3. Damage control
3.1. Actions by the authorities
As indicated above, the competent county offices of the Central Agricultural Office immediately declared a ban on hunting and fishing on the day of the disaster (at 16 o'clock in the
afternoon). The sales and use of contaminated food and feed products was prohibited through
official action by the Chief Veterinary Officer. In the wake of the disaster, Secretary of State
for the Environment Zoltn Ills suspended production at MAL Co. Ltd. with immediate
effect, simultaneously directing the company to restore the reservoir in the area of Ajka.
Based on the decision of the Defence Committee, the construction of four stone barriers
between the red mud reservoirs and the village of Kolontr was started so that they could slow
down sludge spill and reduce its destructive power in the case of a potential further breach
of the reservoir dam. The fourth barrier was built on the territory of the municipality itself.
On 5 October, the first response of the government to the disaster was to issue a government decree declaring a state of emergency and defining a range of organizational, financial
and communications tasks related to damage control.
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Acting upon the authority defined by Article 35, section (1), point i) of the Constitution, and
based on Article 149, section (3) of Act CV of 2004 on National Defence and the Hungarian
Defence Forces, the Government issues the following Decree:
1. (1) The Government declares a state of emergency according to Article 2, section (2), point f)
of Act XXXVII of 1996 on Civil Protection in the administrative area of Gyr-Moson-Sopron,
Veszprm and Vas counties.
(2) In the area impacted by the state of emergency, the measures stipulated by Article 159.
(1) - (3), Article 165, Article 168, Article 169, Article 173 (1) - (2), (3) a)-c), (4), Article 186
and Article 195 of Act CV of 2004 on National Defence and the Hungarian Defence Forces
(hereinafter referred to as NDA) shall be applied.
(3) On the basis of Article 8, point b of Act LXXIV of 1999 on the Management and
Organisation of Disaster Protection and the Prevention of Major Accidents Involving Hazardous Substances, the Hungarian Defence and Police Forces may be called in to assist with the
elimination of the state of emergency.
2. (1) The Minister for Rural Development shall perform ministerial duties relating to the
rectification of environmental damage according to relevant regulations. The Defence Working
Committee shall function within the Ministry for Rural Development. The Minister for Rural
Development shall direct the activities of the Working Committee.
(2) Governmental communication activities related to the elimination of threat in relation
to the state of emergency referred to in the present Decree shall be coordinated by the Minister Of
Public Administrative And Justice .
(3) Government shall provide funding for reasonable defence-related expenses occurring
after 12.30 pm on 4 October 2010 from the general reserve of the budget or otherwise for the
participants in the activities of protection.
3. The present Decree enters into force at 3 pm on 6 October 2010.

A few days after the disaster, the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority learned
from several sources that a number of disaster victims with mortgage loans in the red mud
disaster stricken communities received a formal notice from their credit institution. For the
majority of mortgage contracts, the contract is immediately terminated by the bank if the
mortgaged property is destroyed. The Authority drew the attention of the banks to points
IV. a) and b) of the Code of Conduct, which clearly define the procedures to be applied to
handling payment difficulties. The institutions subscribing to the Code had undertaken to
develop bridging solutions for these cases, and to notify customers through a letter or infor59

mation brochure. As terminating the contracts of clients having lost the loan collateral in the
disaster would have disastrous consequences on these debtors, the Authority took the firm
position that developing bridging solutions is the only solution sufficiently taking into account
the multifaceted aspects of the present case. The Authority sent an executive circular to the
financial institutions concerned, specifying the behaviour expected. The Financial Supervisory
Authority set up a dedicated legal aid customer service operating during opening hours to
address mortgage problems related to the red mud disaster.
On 11 October, the police took the CEO of MAL Co. Ltd. under custody and initiated
pre-trial detention. The company's assets were seized. The same day, National Emergency
Director General Gyrgy Bakondi was appointed Government Emergency Commissioner.
Parliament adopted an amendment to the NDA to the effect that the operation of business
enitities may in the future be brought under the supervision of the state through a Decree,
with the Minister or the Government Commissioner acting on behalf of the state.

The Governmental proposal was voted for by the majority of parties in Parliament, with the parliamentary group of LMP abstaining from the vote. The ecological party did not object to placing
MAL Co. Ltd. under the state supervision, but warned that the proposed amendment was too
vague as the scope in which it would enable placing companies under state supervision was too
broad and not sufficiently clearly defined. Furthermore, it was less accurate in its provisions on the
conditions and duration of maintaining supervision than would be required by the rule of law.

The Emergency Commissioner was granted the following competences: a right to overview the financial condition of the business entity, to endorse and countersign financial obligations the business entity would take on and to take decisions on matters within the competence
of the entity's main decision making body with a view to directly eliminate the conditions that
have lead to the adoption of the extraordinary measures or to mitigate their consequences.
The Hungarian State shall notify, in writing, with immediate notice, the entity's senior officials and members of the Supervisory Board regarding decisions taken on matters within
the competence of the entity's main decision making body. This right of decision making does
not otherwise affect the competences of the highest decision making body of the entity. The
Hungarian State owes the business entity or its owner compensation amounting to the value
of the damage in effect incurred by decisions of the Commissioner in its competence for the
period when a decree is in force that the Constitutional Court would later annul.
On 12 October, the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (NTSZ)
published its findings concluding that drinking water quality is suitable and access to drinking water is secure in the area flooded with red mud. In the preceding week, the public health
authority carried out a detailed analysis of 68 drinking water samples taken from 8 settlements
of the area impacted. The samples included seven samples taken from drilled wells. The values
did not deviate from the usual indicators of water quality, indicating appropriate water quality. Based on the results, Disaster Management added that the drinking water bases were not
acutely impaired from any direction by the disaster. The National Public Health and Medical
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Officer Service and the Central Transdanubian Environmental, Nature conservation and Water
Management Inspectorate jointly performed air quality tests in Kolontr and Devecser. Based
on data obtained by common standardised measurement methodologies, the concentration of
airborne fine articulates did not exceed limit values between 7 to 10 October, i.e. the period
for which airborne fine articulates were an increasing problem due to drying of the red sludge.
Nevertheless, based on the test results the bodies communicated that wearing FFP2D dust
masks was deemed secure and generally recommended. Eight air pollution measurement points
were established, in the municipalities of Ajka, Devecser, Kolontr, Tskevr and Somlvsrhely, among others. According to measures by the National Public Health and Medical Officer
Service, dust concentration in the air only exceeded the limit values in the disaster impacted
area (in proximity of the dam break). In this area, wearing a dust mask was made compulsory
for participants in the rescue operations.
Minister for Rural Development Alexander Fazekas announced on 5 November in Kolontr that Csaba Szab was commissioned to oversee tasks of coordination and consultation
related to restoration activities and the exchange of real estate plots in the region flooded by
the red mud. The mandate of the Ministry Commissioner ran from 5 November 2010 to 5
May 2011. Csaba Szab coordinates activities and acts on behalf of the Ministry in all areas
of competence of the Ministry of Rural Development, consults with producers in the area on
exchanging real estate plots or participation in the cultivation of energy crops. His tasks also
include keeping contact with local governments and businesses, as well as to ensure accuracy
in damage assessments. At the same time, works to plant the material dudarit into the soil
was begun under the supervision of the Central Agricultural Office to neutralize alkalinity
on the 150 hectare site that was covered by a thin layer (1-2 cm) of red mud.

3.2. Anomalies of central communication


The first days and weeks following the disaster were characterized locally and the national level by
a lack of information and a multitude of false information simultaneously. The situation was made
worse by the fact that the relevant administrative authorities (environment, health) communicated
with delay and in a manner constantly aiming to shift off responsibility. The mouth gag of authorities can be directly associated with legislation adopted following the change of government
under which the members of staff of the authorities can be made redundant without either justification or substantial compensation. Layoffs (the professional justification of which was regularly
questioned by the press) did indeed start in August and September, thus professionals employed
by the state would have had to make statements in an atmosphere characterised by apprehension,
exposed to the risk of job loss, when they found themselves dealing with an environmental and
environmental health disaster of extraordinary complexity, without precedent in Hungary.
As Greenpeace pointed out: In the first weeks, the quality of the information provided
was below classification. Concerning spilled toxic substances, the National Public Health and
Medical Officer Service concluded on the second day after the event that the concentration of
all potentially hazardous materials was below the risk limit - referring to measurements carried
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out in 1987! The Hungarian Academy of Sciences reached essentially the same conclusion on the
third day. Similarly, the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service confirmed this one
week after the accident, based on recent measurements. Meanwhile, the lungs, skin, and mucous
membrane of thousands of people in the zone were exposed to contact with an unknown mixture
of toxic substances. In order to avoid suffering serious damage to health, they should have been
provided accurate and honest information and adequate protective gear. They received neither.
Greenpeace was the first to inform the public of the results of effective measurements on
the fourth day of the disaster. A high concentration in arsenic was measured, about 25 times
the authorised limit for groundwater in the drainage ditches. The two other noxious heavy
metals they tested, mercury and chromium were also significantly over the limit.
The official communication channel of the Ministry of the Interior, i.e. the website vorosiszap.bm.hu went online on 5 October. However, it was only on 8 October, viz. four days
after the dam broke that the first summary appeared on the site including the most important
(but by no means exhaustive) health related information concerning the contamination, crucial both for the local population and for those taking part in the damage rectification efforts
(http://vorosiszap.bm.hu/?p=50).
In the most critical period, the regionally competent environmental authority provided no
significant information relevant to the general public at all. Even at the time the present report
is being compiled, i.e. February 2011, the website of the Inspectorate (kdtktvf.zoldhatosag.hu)
contains nothing more on the disaster than the authorizations and decisions concerning the
functioning of Mal Co. Ltd.
Following the accident, a series of reports appeared in the media on the health effects of
red mud, indicating that the contaminant is potentially radioactive. Nevertheless, ANTSZ
failed to provide comprehensive information about the actual impacts and risks earlier than
25 October, that is, three weeks after the accident (http://www.antsz.hu/portal/down/kulso/
kozegeszsegugy/iszaptarolo_szakadt_at/lakossagi_tajekoztato_20101025.pdf).
In its decision dated 5 November, the government declared that it was Mal Co. Ltd. that
caused the disaster. In an official communication, the legal representative of the company responded that The concept of the government stipulating the identity of the party which caused
the damage in any case is shocking by any means, as well as unprecedented from a legal point
of view. Furthermore, the governments taking sides regarding the issue of liability would be
utterly unacceptable, given the fact that final expert advice was not even given on the causes of
the disaster themselves. It is up to the judicial bodies, and ultimately to the court to declare a
decision on both the issue of harm and that of liability, and that only following an appropriate
and fair procedure exploring the causes of the event.
In addition, it was a striking deficiency of communication that the residents of the area
affected by the accident did not have any substantive knowledge of the potential risks of the
dams breaking, of the consequences of exposure to red mud, or of the actions capable of reducing the effects of the disaster, even though there is a strong tradition of providing preliminary
information in areas characterised by industrial activities with high environmental risk (for
example, the Paks Nuclear Power Plant) in Hungary. This lack of information significantly
contributed to the severity of the damage wrought on human lives, health and finances.

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3.3. The communication of MAL Co. Ltd.


The red mud is not dangerous. It can be hosed off by a strong water current. They say I
should feel responsible, but I do not. These quotes are taken from the first communication of
Zoltn Bakonyi, the director of Ajka Alumina Plant (a subsidiary of MAL Co. Ltd.), voiced
with a delay of one day after the disaster. By this time, three villages had been flooded, three
people were left dead and more than a dozen were treated in different hospitals, mostly for
injuries of alkaline burn, similar to ordinary skinburn.
The company executive explained that it was the water layer from the top of the reservoir,
containing sodium hydroxide that had flooded the area, taking with itself sludge and soil from
the agricultural areas on its way. The water in the sludge reservoir is an inherent feature of the
wet disposal technology, while the alkaline liquid can actually irritate the skin if it comes into
contact with it. According to Mr. Bakonyis words, about 97 to 98 percent of the sludge that
had originally been stored in the reservoir remained in place even after the dam broke, and
it was not to be expected that the clay-like substance, condensed in large blocks of material
would move further (based on this accountas well as on the experience of subsequent onsite inspectionsthe construction of hastily erected protective emergency barriers between
the reservoir and Kolontr was largely unjustified). Mr. Bakonyi argued that the disaster was
caused directly by the fact that recent heavy rains have rendered the claylike soil so sodden
below the external wall of the reservoir built 25 years previously that it could not withstand
the pressure of water (this claim has not been confirmed in tests carried out since, though it
has not been refuted either).
On the same day, MAL issued a corporate statement regarding the disaster. Many
people learned from the media that a natural disaster took place on 4 October 2010 at 12:10
pm when the dam of red mud reservoir basin 10 of the Ajka alumina plant owned by MAL
Co. Ltd. broke, an event without precedent in the history of the Bayer alumina production
process. The management expresses the deepest regrets to all residents who have been personally impacted by this disaster, and expresses condolences to the families who experienced the
worst human tragedy, the loss of a family member. The suggestion that what happened was
in fact a natural disaster have not been confirmed by the investigations so far. Rather, it seems
to be the case that human errors, omissions, bad decisions and technological reasons together
have led to the accident.
The following statement acknowledging responsibility was only issued on Thursday, 7
October, that is, three days after the accident took place. Subsequently, however, the company
made constant efforts to spread out and relativise this responsibility. In the 1997 privatization
contract, the state imposed that a number of environmental investments be carried out by the
company purchasing the plant with the sludge reservoir. One of the requirements was to build
watertight slurry walls which would seal off the reservoirs below the ground, going down 10 to
18 meters vertically. These watertight slurry walls would reach down to the first impermeable
layer, in a way that no release of harmful substances may take place. However, the resulting
quasi-artificial underground pools thus created below the reservoirs also obstructed the path of
large amounts of rainfall to flow off or leak away. The authorities and institutions of the state
that ordered the construction of the slurry wall thus likely failed to consider the fact that the
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large amounts of precipitation getting and fi ltering through here would change the behaviour
of the subsoil, in particular the soil solidity. Thus on the basis of known prior expertise, the
responsibility is shared: a reservoir began to be constructed in the mid-80s, upon order by the
Hungarian Aluminum Industry Trust, owned by the Hungarian state. The reservoir design
and construction was also implemented by state-owned firms. The building permits as well as
the 1990 use permit were also issued by public authorities. When the company was privatized
in 1997, the purchaser was justified to believe in good faith that there was nothing wrong with
the reservoir since the constructing party, the seller and the company formerly operating the
reservoirs each had all the required licenses. In addition, in the contract dossier amounting
to nearly 100 pages including annexes, the buyer was nowhere informed that Basin 10 or the
subsoil below the reservoirs would present any special features (e.g. different soil structure, etc)
that needed to be addressed on their own. Construction of the slurry walls was required and
the company did indeed construct them as there was a statutory obligation to do so.
Consequently, the company purchased the reservoir in good faith, though the reservoir
had hidden faults in all certainty, as shown by the recent events. In addition, the competent
public authorities constantly monitored the operation of the reservoirs and found it satisfactory in all cases.
On October 10, the company considered it timely to express once more its sympathy to
the victims' relatives. The Management and all employees of MAL Co. Ltd. were all deeply
shaken by the disaster that occurred. We wish once more to express our deepest regret to all
victims, the injured and the impacted and their families. The outmost efforts are made to rectify the damage. We work closely with all bodies involved in order restore normal conditions
in the region as soon as possible.
On this day, the company issued a further notice denying that it had been aware of the
Winkler soil study. As far as we know, this was the only document of expertise which drew
attention to the risks imposed by the geo-morphological characteristics of the reservoir area
prior to the accident.
As reported by the press, physicist dr. Gusztv Winkler (a senior lecturer at the Budapest
University of Technology) conducted environmental studies in the region of Mosonmagyarvr
and Ajka at the end of the 1980s, i.e. at around the time when the foundations of reservoir 10
of the alumina plant were laid. The study states that soil of the region mostly consists of the
floodplain meadow of Torna creek, an area with a flooded, swampy, meadow-like character
without water outlets, enclosing a block of clay right at the northern wall of the reservoir. When
saturated by precipitation or groundwater, this soil will move, but in a way that the different
blocks of soil with dissimilar composition and structure are likely to show displacements to
varying degrees. These displacements of several centimetres might be probing for the wall of
the reservoir. The expert behind the study argues that this assumption is supported by the
fact that the dam broke on Monday at the meeting point of two kinds of soil, and not only
at the corner as shown by aerial photographs, but in another section of the wall as well. The
block of clay was likely home to a phenomenon reducing the rate of friction which could have
contributed to the disaster. According to the studies conducted by MAL Co. Ltd., its staff
was not aware of the findings of the study. The management stated that they had no knowledge of negative circumstances regarding the design phase or subsequent construction. The
64

representatives of MAL Co. Ltd. which had purchased the shares of the Ajka alumina plant
added that the privatization documents or the published tender did not include this kind of
information, thus they received no warning or information about the existing risk factors. The
company also denied allegations in the media suggesting that it had contacted senior lecturer
Gusztv Winkler concerning the research. Since then, the company had consulted Gusztv
Winkler with respect to the document. The investigation by MAL Co. Ltd. also addressed
the issue of who abused the company name when approaching the senior lecturer in search of
the construction design.
A summary of the results of the Winkler study is currently available on the Internet
(http://www.pannonpalatinus.hu/up/pdf/185.pdf). The study itself, however, is not available
in its entirety.
Concerning the environmental and health effects of the red mud spill, MAL Co. Ltd. only
repeated the communication of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (referred to in detail below).

3.4. Communication steps by LMP


and social organizations
3.4.1. LMP
As early as in its communication dated 5 October, LMP formulated the cornerstones that
have since been definitive for damage control, clarifying issues of liability and identify of the
transgressors. Thus, several factors need to be mentioned and investigated among the causes of
the accident, including the activities of authorities in a state of steady decline due to inadequate
capacities, misconceptions regarding their duties and continued exposure to political pressures,
the flaws in the design, implementation and monitoring of the privatization of the aluminium
industry, as well as the deficiencies in the Hungarian regulations regarding reparations for
environmental damage. In a press conference on 6 October in Kolontr, Benedek Jvor, the
LMP-delegated chairman of the Sustainable Development Committee of the Hungarian Parliament demanded that the Government disclose the privatization contracts of the company
involved in the accident which had previously been treated as confidential material.
Four days later, the ecological party defined the steps to be taken to reduce the risk of
similar disasters (some of which have since been clearly recognizable in the measures taken
by government in response to the disaster).
LMPs Twelve-Point Action Plan (10 October 2010):
To stop further damage resulting from the catastrophic red mud spill, to rectify its consequences and to prevent future disasters of a similar nature, LMP has developed a twelve-point
action plan including short, mid, and long term measures. LMP deems it important that the
government acts according to this plan, in permanent consultation with the governmental and
non-governmental organizations.

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1. strengthening the dams and preventing future dam breaks;


2. the collection, safe disposal and neutralization of the red mud;
3. continuous monitoring and measurement of the concentration of heavy metals, arsenic,
mercury, fluorine, PCBs and other contaminants potentially contained in the spilled sludge,
the contaminated sites and the surrounding water deposits with regard to allegations that
hazardous waste other than red mud might have been deposited in the damaged cassettes;
4. immediate structural engineering and stability testing of other similar establishments, especially the red mud reservoirs located in Mosonmagyarvr, Almsfzit, Neszmly and the
investigation of whether waste other than red mud had been deposited in these reservoirs;
5. the revision of the disaster management plans of all domestic hazardous industrial plants,
mines, and landfills with a view to checking that they correspond to the actual conditions and
that they are based on realistic models of the events that could occur in case of an accident;
6. strengthening the entire system of environmental and construction authorities, increasing
the frequency and depth of the inspection by authorities;
7. arevision of the classification and treatment of red mud due to its high pH level, clearly
defining it as a hazardous substance and ensuring it is treated as such in the permission
procedures without regard to EU regulations that have been defined for substances produced through a different technological process and have lower pH levels;
8. developing the liability insurance system for hazardous industrial plants with mandatory
and sufficiently high insurance rates, as in fact defined as a task for legislators by Hungarian environmental law fifteen years ago;
9. a revision of the system of issuing building permits and inspections, with regular mandatory comprehensive inspection of hazardous sites;
10. initiating an EU security fund, financed from the payments of hazardous sites and designed to provide financial coverage in the case of damage that cannot be rectified from
other sources;
11. initiating the development of a European directive designed to set up compulsory liability
insurance policies;
12. deploying an EU investigative committee with a wide mandate along the lines of those
granted to the task force investigating the Baia Mare accident ten years previously, entrusted to draw conclusions and formulate recommendations.

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LMP is convinced that measures in line with these twelve points are crucial both for the
remediation effort and for preventing accidents in the future.
The European Green Party (EGP) unanimously passed an emergency resolution at its
Council Meeting on 10-11 October, supporting the demands formulated by LMP concerning the ecological disaster caused the dam break in the region of Ajka. The EGP referred to
the event as clearly one of the most severe ecological disasters of the past decades. Over 300
delegates from 55 countries called on the Hungarian state to ensure that the upper layer of
the soil covered with red mud is replaced as soon as possible, thus preventing the toxic dust
containing heavy metals and other hazardous components from spreading in the area. In addition, they also joined LMP in urging the authorities to examine the condition of similar
alumina reservoirs and to enforce that appropriate disaster management plans be implemented,
to be financed by the owners. Representing the fourth largest group in the EP, the European
Greens also requested the Hungarian Government to comply with the demand of LMP to
make public the privatisation contract of MAL Co. Ltd.
On 12 October, Benedek Jvor submitted six questions to competent government officials:
1. Had Mal Co. Ltd. in fact implemented the HUF 3 Billion environmental investment included in the privatisation contract for the alumina company, which it acquired for a grossly
undercut price (HUF 10 Million) during the late 90s? What were the millions of Euros
spent on, that Mal Co. Ltd. received as environmental investment subsidies, apparently still
unaccounted for in Brussels?
2. Why is Hungarian red mud far more alkaline than would be considered normal in other
countries, and why is there no regulation for neutralizing sludge prior to depositing it?
3. How could the Central Transdanubian Inspectorate for Environmental Issues, Nature
Conservation and Water Management issue a permit for normal waste disposal when red
mud has a pH of 13, and is therefore unquestionably a hazardous substance?
4. How could Mal Co. Ltd. neglect to inform the public or the authorities regarding the issues
that have, as unanimously established by local residents, plant employees and a WWF report
with photographic evidence, been present for weeks, indeed for months? Why is there no
appropriate construction inspection to encompass architectural and structural engineering
tests as well as environmental ones?
5. How could the plants disaster management plan reckon with a 300 thousand cubic meter
red mud spill, when spillage thus far amounts to 600 to 700 thousand cubic meters, and
in all due probability will approach 1 million cubic meters, with a significant additional
quantity still contained in the reservoir? Who ratified the obviously unrealistic disaster
management plan?

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6. How could government neglect its duty to ensure an appropriate environmental responsibility insurance system, as prescribed by the Environmental Law of 1995, for some 15 years?
Government has not provided reassuring answers to these questions since.
In its October 14th statement, ecopolitical party LMP declared that relocating the evacuated population to the red mud contaminated settlements of Kolontr and Devecser is premature, as official Greenpeace test results report excessive airborne dust contamination in
the area, posing a long term health risk. LMP called on competent authorities to exercise far
greater caution when resettling the residents, who have already had more than their share of
suffering. The statement also makes it clear that there is none of the agencies involved in the
disaster fulfilled their duties appropriately. Neither the business corporation nor the competent
authorities had taken appropriate measures to prevent the reservoir rupture and the ensuing
ecological and property damage. Authoritative legislation had been overdue since 1995, and
neglecting its development is a responsibility of the government.
On October 20th, president of Sustainable Development Commission Benedek Jvor,
member of LMP, informed representatives of the EU Parliaments Green Group about the
disaster via a video conference. He made it clear to members of the Green Group participating
an the meeting preceding the Tuesday evening EP session with the Ajka disaster on its agenda
that this was the single greatest ecological disaster in Hungarian history, both in terms of human casualties and injuries, and the magnitude of environmental contamination. Immediate
and longer term environmental damage was due primarily to the muds extreme alkalinity, as
well as its high concentrations of heavy metals. Jvor also called attention to the deficiencies of
both Hungarian and EU regulations that contributed to the event. Under EU regulations, red
mud is not classified a hazardous substance, without regard to its alkalinity and heavy metal
content. However, due to the alkalinity of the technical process, red mud definitely meets the
criteria for hazardous substances in Hungary. In practice, though, Hungarian authorities apply
lax regulatory limits, and treat red mud as practically non-hazardous waste.
On October 29th, the party submitted a complex set of legislations to prevent future
disasters in light of the Kolontr accident. According to LMP, the most urgent measure is
a re-evaluation of hazardous and industrial waste containment, as there is no definitive upto-date information available on such potential health and environment hazards. Left unchecked, potential sources of contamination may cause immense damage, and the financing
of compensation and damages may fall on public funds. LMP wishes Parliament to call on the
government to prepare an inventory of the countrys hazardous and industrial waste dumps,
the substances deposited there, and an estimate for their environmental impact, including
alternatives for their elimination and a calculation for expenses.
The recommendation includes a re-evaluation of the recently downsized National Environmental Damage Prevention Programme, an immediate allocation of public funds for
rehabilitation costs, and a warranty for the disaster prevention expenses of privately owned
hazardous entities. The government ordnance for subterranean water protection needs to be
modified, as does the government resolution regarding government responsibility for the
rehabilitation of neglected environmental damage.
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The ecopolitical party drafted a new legislative proposal for defining environmentally hazardous entities, their annual official inspection, and an independent investigation conducted
by an expert appointed by the environmental authority, not the investigated establishment
of impact, via a modification of the Act on the Environment (Ktv.). Rules of environmental
rehabilitation warranties and environmental insurance for third party compensation would
also be modified in the Act on the Environment. LMP also moves for modifying the Criminal Code (BTK) to ensure that neglect of supervision duties can be penalized. A category of
endangering through official procedure would be included in the BTK.

3.4.2. Clean Air Action Group, Greenpeace and other NGOs


On day 2 of the disaster, Clean Air Action Group recapped how on numerous occasions, they
had called government attention to the unresolved issues surrounding red mud containment,
and had recommended specific legal measures, which had gone without response.
It is with grave misgivings and deep compassion for the affected citizens that Clean Air
Action Group took notice of the flooding of seven Transdanubian settlements by a highly toxic
red mud spill. The NGO had called government attention to the issue years ago, demanding
immediate action. In 2003, they gave the following statement:
The greatest volume of hazardous waste in Hungary is the so-called red mud, the byproduct of aluminum oxide production, which is estimated to total some 30 million tonnes.
The problem is twofold. Firstly, the waste poses a massive environmental hazard. Secondly,
the production of aluminum oxide and aluminum hydroxide continues to this day, albeit on a
smaller scale. Each tonne of aluminum oxide produces 2 tonnes of hazardous waste.
There is a professional consensus to the effect that red mud poses environmental problems:
active dump areas appropriate valuable agricultural land,
wind carries dry red mud dust clouds to remote settlements (1015 km),
the muds liquid alkali content seeps into the soil, endangering local vegetation and drinking
water supplies.
During privatization, proprietors agreed to warrant environmental costs of ten thousand
million Forints, but despite this fact there has been no mention of any such responsibility,
though by law it is public information.
Our EU membership requires rigorous action in this field. We suggest the initiation of
an international campaign for the elimination and environmentally sound reutilization of red
mud reservoirs, requesting support from EU countries and other developed nations. Government should draft a programme to this end. This would ensure thousands of long term jobs.
As undertaken during privatisation, environmental remediation and recultivation must commence. This does not entail any short term income for the state budget, but it waives state responsibility for several ten thousand million forints worth of environmental remediation expenses.
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Clean Air Action Group had repeatedly submitted its recommendation to several government representatives, but has not received meaningful replies.
Red mud reservoirs pose a threat to drinking water catchments in several locations. The
situation is especially worrying at the MOTIM reservoir in Mosonmagyarvr, where red
mud is contained right above the water catchmenta place restricted even for communal
waste disposal. An expert from Clean Air Action Group had fi led suit at the prosecutors
office, and received the following response: Due investigation was given to all the processes
and decisions concerning MOTIM Co. and its legal predecessors. It is hereby declared the
decisions are sound and comply with the laws then in force. Accordingly, no action from the
prosecutors office was necessary. It is not so much the prosecutors office that was responsible
for the erronous reply and for the failure to take action as the competent environmental authority, whichaccording to reportswas put under considerable political pressure and did
in fact misinform the prosecutors office.
Clean Air Action Group had also repeatedly called attention to the issue of limited responsibilitylikewise to no avail. The immense environmental, health and property damage
is usually suffered by the injured parties, and compensated by taxpayers, as the companies
responsible for the damage are unable to cover damages. To this end, Clean Air Action Group
encourages the obligation of companies conducting hazardous activities to take out insurance,
as well as for their allocating a fund for full compensation for possible damages.
Clean Air Action Group also demands that the government immediately publish the
relevant privatisation contracts, to clarify who and to what degree bears responsibility for the
disastrous situation.
This event and its cost in human lives, serious injuries, immense material damage and
ecological devastation all underscore that government must adopt a far more responsible attitude toward environmental organizations, their experts and their warnings.
Assessment of environmental damage and impact must begin immediately, and results
must be made public. Remediation must also commence without delay, before the contamination spreads any further.
On October 7th, major Hungarian environmental organizations made a joint statement
regarding the disaster.
Environmental organizations statement regarding the red mud disaster
October 7th, 2010
The undersigned environmental NGOs consider the preservation of public health, healing the
injured, remedying damage and preventing further damage to be of topmost priority in the
red mud contaminated settlements. We call on the general public, NGOs, corporations and
institutions to join forces with government bodies to aid these operations. We also extend our
sympathy and solidarity to those affected.
However, this disaster plainly calls for further action.
It is necessary to conduct a far more detailed national survey of potential environmental
70

threats, as well as expediting the remediation of existing damage. Though the process had
initiated after the system change, it has since slowed to a near halt. However, as this present
case proves, nature is less indulgent. At the present rate of remediation, we are risking further
disaster and loss of life, and compensating damages costs us far more money than remediation would.
It must be avoided that innocent victims and taxpayers bear the costs of damage, instead
these should be fully compensated by the injurious party. To this end, companies conducting
hazardous activities should be required by law to take out insurance for all possible damages,
as well as to allocate funds for full compensation. A further option is for a state tax on relevant
activities to ensure funds for possible damage management.
State subsidising of heavily polluting activities and exploitation of non-renewable fuel
must be stopped. One form of subsidization is when the injurious party is not held financially
responsible for environmental damage caused. It would seem an efficient measure to raise the
currently moderate mining annuity.
Expanding and improving environmental and health care vocational training is essential.
A majority of the population is currently incapable of protecting their environment or health,
and is uninformed of what to do in case of an environmental disaster.
Affected settlements and companies everywhere must compose disaster management
plans, which they must be capable of carrying out. Competent authorities must supervise this
rigorously!
Furthermore, injurious parties must be penalized in a strict and exemplary manner.
Environmental NGOs have voiced these suggestions in the past. We are hopeful it will
no longer be necessary in future, when government implements the measures listed above.
In their joint letter of October 12th, Clean Air Action Group and Greenpeace asked the
Minister of Interior the reason why, more than a week after the accident, there was still
no clear information available regarding the composition of the mud spilled, or of the
particulate air contamination.
For instance, it seems incomprehensible that even though tests are reported by the press
to be conducted on a daily basis, it is still not known exactly what kinds of toxic materials are
inhaled by and absorbed through the skin of the workers on site and local residents. How can
it be possible that the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service issues a reassuring statement on the basis of tests conducted at the Ajka Alumina Plant in 1987? As long as
no comprehensive public data are made available about the exact nature, concentration and
territorial dispersion on the polluting materials, the appropriate level of protection and of the
proper protective wear cannot be determined for the people staying in the contaminated area.
The NGOs are committed to the view that residents must be informed continuously,
coherently and in detail, and presently we are quite far from that. Deficient information endangers peoples most precious treasure, their health. All the local people and rescue workers
are rightly concerned about it in the swirling red clouds of dust.
That is why it is important to test the chemical composition of the contamination at a sufficient number of locations, with regard to the oxidation state of the metals involved since, for
71

example, chrome (III) is not particularly toxic, chrome (VI) represents a serious health hazard.
In terms of neutralisation, composition is particularly important for while alkali absorbs toxic
metals, they could get off the environment under the effect of acid causing a long-term problem.
On the day following the accident, the Disaster Management very properly drew up
strict regulations, preparing for the worst: For the protection of the health of all those, who
take part within the endangered area in the rescue and cleaning operation of the grounds and
the properties, shall wear Wellington boots, closed clothing, acid and alkali-proof protective
gloves and safety goggles in case of the risk of spillage. According to information reported by
the press, several firemen and disaster management employees suffered injuries and possibly
health damage due to insufficient preparation. Because the composition of the toxic materials
is still unknown, it cannot be concluded for certain that they had received the proper types
of safety masks.
Greenpeace and the Clean Air Action Group suggested in addition that the enrichment of toxic materials in the system of rescue workers and local residents should be equally
checked. Dry red mud getting into the air is a health risk if inhaled or if it gets into contact
with the eyes or skin. Measures must therefore be taken in order to ensure the protection of
the residents of the region as well, as wind can carry the toxic dust away, even 10-15 kilometres
far. Red mud must be cleared away the fields as soon as possible to prevent the wind spreading
it around the neighbouring villages.
Not only the people but animals in the region inhale the dust which may contain toxic
metals. Therefore, measures must be taken to protect animals from disease, and, furthermore,
to prevent the production of food out of these animals as it could be a health hazard for people
who might consume it.
On October 15, Greenpeace protested against the hastily issued permission which allowed
residents to return:
Greenpeace, the international environmental organisation protests against the return of the
residents and the re-opening of the Ajka Alumina Plant of MAL Co. Ltd. The exact causes of
last weeks red mud disaster are still not clear, but, in spite of the fact, the government decided
to let the production restart.
Greenpeace regards the permission on the return of the residents of Kolontr as an utterly
irresponsible decision. Up to the present, there is no reassuring data published by anybody
which would prove the safety of staying in Kolontr in the long term, and nobody provided
exact information about the short-term and long-term health effects of the high concentration
of fine dust particulates in the air.
Wearing dust masks and local damage limitation can only be a solution for a short-term stay.
But the presence of dry red mud in the form of dust or otherwise is a threat to the health
of local residents. Do decision makers seriously think that the people of Kolontr have to
wear dust masks from now on in 24/7? asked Zsolt Szegfalvi, the Director of Greenpeace
Hungary.

72

According to the information of Greenpeace, the technology applied by MAL Co. Ltd. in
its Ajka Alumina Plant does not meet todays requirements. The red mud made during the production here is highly alkaline. This fact only increases the risks if another accident takes place.
How can it be possible that the German red mud is less harmful than the Hungarian one?
In our opinion, we deserve the same safety levels as enjoyed by citizens of Western Europe
have, Mr Szegfalvi added.
As a result of a political decision the operation of MAL Co. Ltd. was placed under the
control of the Hungarian state and the restart of the production was permitted by state authorities. However, the opinion of an independent international committee of experts is required
as presently the operator and the licensor are in a hierarchical relationship which does not
guarantee proper safety.
Greenpeace Hungary asks the government to suspend re-opening the plant until the
circumstances of the disaster are elucidated and environmental and health hazards are significantly reduced.
The statement of Csaln Environmental and Conservation Association (Csaln Egyeslet)
drew attention to a number of fundamental legal and environmental issues:
Csaln Environmental and Conservation Association is seriously concerned about the events
of the red mud disaster which flooded Kolontr, Devecser and five other villages of Veszprm
county and expresses deep compassion for the citizens of the affected region whose life were
destroyed overnight by the poisoning.
The association finds it outrageous that fate of people is turned to the worst due to careless
and irresponsible industrial activities in our immediate environment. This raises the question who
could set limits to the hazards of industrial activities and what is the point in the various laws
and regulations considered as strict if such ecological disasters can destroy the lives of thousands?
Who will pay for the damages caused by irresponsible behaviour? In fact, is it possible at all to
compensate for the destruction of peoples homes? Do residents living near the reservoir have the
right to know the nature of the risks in their environment and what to do in case of a disaster?
We all know the answers to these questions. We have the right to know what exactly
the continuation of industrial activities in our environment entails even if the state authorities
have an obligation to monitor them and ensure all precaution is taken to prevent such disasters
in the future. And yes, the residents of the red mud affected municipalities have the right to
accurate information about the composition of the red mud flooding their homes and gardens
so that the proper precautions be made even in these degrading circumstances.

73

3.5. Assessment of the disaster management


Some of the most important and most urgent disaster management tasks were conducted
carefully and on time by the government.
These included:
The suspension of the production at MAL Co. Ltd;
The evacuation of the residents and the organisation of their supply;
The maintenance of public order and public security in the affected area;
The protection of the drinking water reserve;
The organisation of environmental and public health monitoring;
The localisation of risks threatening surface waters;
At the same time, a number of unnecessary or ill-advised steps have also been made besides
the above examples:
The construction of highly expensive temporary dams between the damaged reservoir and
the flooded villages was controversial. (Several experts have expressed that there was no
risk of another sludge flood which affecting the nearby villages). Nevertheless, this can be
explained by the intention to prevent another possible disaster;
The neutralisation of the alkaline spillage by gypsum and sulphuric acid delivered form faraway parts of the country. (Less harmful materials could have also been used including less
industrial contamination and these could have come from regions closer to the damaged area);
The relocation of residents was started too early;
The removal of slightly contaminated soil in areas where harrowing and neutralisation could
have been the appropriate solution.
Furthermore, some clearly wrong decisions have equally been made:
First of all, there have been severe shortcomings in the information provided for local people and the public. Both the data provided in relation to the disaster and later the crucially
important information on public health issues (dust contamination, etc.) were made available
with delay, partially or not at all;

74

The remediation of agricultural fields was started with delay and without a clear strategy;
The distribution of the aid collected from public contributions has not been started yet (until
February 2011);
Local residents reported to have observed abuse in the distribution of material goods offered
by individual donors or companies;
The compensation for damages to real estate started in ways that were unjust and contrary to
the promises originally made. However, the claims raised were redressed later on;
The transportation of contaminated soil and the spilled red mud was organised on public
roads, although sufficient railway capacity was available in the contaminated area.

75

Summary
Following this unprecedented accident the authorities responded with the expected
rapidity and decisiveness, but not always efficiently in the defence of human health, the
environment and material assets impacted by the disaster or at risk. One reason for the
fact that intervention was not efficient enough was lack of information (local residents
and participants in the rescue operations were not informed as to the composition and
pH value of the red mud, the biological effect of the slurry, the list of materials to be used
in restoration and whether they were available). The defective communication structure
was a further reason (crucial information on environmental health issues was published
with a delay of several days, with significant initial inaccuracies). As a result, for several
days the people impacted were on multiple occasions forced to make decisions potentially
influencing the rest of their lives based on conflicting information (e.g. the red mud is
not harmful vs. the red mud is toxic and/or radioactive).
The deficiencies of governmental communication characterising the first days after the
accident were primarily mitigated by non-governmental organisations (Greenpeace,
Clean Air Working Group, etc.), as they were the sources of communication regarding
measurement data and useful health advice.
The activity of the authorities in such extreme cases should be characterised exclusively
by professional objectivity and based on firm legal foundations in order to preserve the
trust of the public. This was however contradicted by the temporary arrest of the CEO
of MAL Co. Ltd., which later turned out to be untenable; the assurance given by the
Prime Minister on the issue the detention; the act of placing the company under state
control and the allocation of liability for the accident to MAL Co. Ltd. (too early, without
genuine investigations).
On the 6th day after the accident, LMP drew up a comprehensive package for the government on the disaster management measures. The proposals did not fail to consider
ecological concerns, and have since been substantiated as relevant and accurate. On the
next day, The European Green Party declared support for LMPs claims. LMP raised
the issues that have been at the focus of investigations ever since (e.g. the privatisation
of the aluminium industry, the responsibility of the authorities regarding permission
for alkaline sludge disposal, technological shortcomings of the reservoirs dam detected
previously and the unsuitability of the disaster management plan). On 29 October, the
party presented a proposal for legislation which could significantly reduce the chances
of and the risks posed by similar disasters, however, the proposal was not supported.

76

Recommendations
The official communication for major environmental disasters should be organised, including creating the legal background, clarifying responsibilities, communication channels and deadlines. When disaster strikes, it is especially important to provide adequate
information to the residents in line with regulations such as the Aarhus Convention, the
Act on Data Protection, the Act on the Environment, the Act on Freedom of Electronic
Information etc.;
All governments should adhere to rule of law standards even at times of environmental
disaster. The problems encountered should be tackled within this framework;
There is need for statutory authorities to implement a yearly compulsory audit of environmentally high-risk facilities, including substantive testing, with the participation of
experts independent from the authority;
In the procedure of issuing environmental permits, environmental impact assessment studies need to be prepared by experts working independently from the issuer of the permit;
An EU-wide security fund needs to be set up, financed form the contribution of hazardous plants for damages that cannot otherwise be covered;
There is need for an EU Directive on compulsory environmental liability insurance policies.

77

This vehicle was swept into the garden


by red mud flooding along the street

4. Contamination reports
4.1. Initial reports based on earlier tests
A range of confl icting data and statements had been aired following the red mud disaster,
pertaining to the constitution of the sludge, its toxicity and environmental impact. Immediately
after the disaster, information was published on the official website of the National Directorate
General for Disaster Management at the Ministry of the Interior about the red mud spill.
RED MUD
A by-product of alumina production. The material is thick like sour cream, strongly alkaline, thus has a caustic effect on the skin. The
mud contains heavy metals, including lead, is mildly radioactive, and inhaling the dust may cause lung cancer.
A by-product of alumina production (the first phase of the of aluminium production), red mud has severe adverse health effects,
thus it is classified as a category 2 hazardous substance. It is highly alkaline and contains large quantities of toxic metals including
lead. Due to its alkalinity, red mud produces a caustic effect on the skin, and should be washed off immediately with plenty of water
in order to neutralize it. The substance is radioactive, but because of its low activity, the direct risk of radiation is negligible. However,
the wind may carry radioactive materials from areas nearby, so inhaling the substance may even cause lung cancer. On average, producing one ton of aluminium results in three tons of highly alkaline red mud produced. (Source: Directorate for Disaster Management)

78

According to the communication, [the] mud contains heavy metals, including lead, is mildly
radioactive, and inhaling the dust may cause lung cancer. This information was replaced on
October 5th with data supplied by the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service
(NTSZ) (4.1.2). Later tests disproved the claims of high lead concentration and hazardous
radioactivity. Lead and radioactivity warnings w ere therefore misleading.

4.1.1. Statements of MAL. Co. Ltd.


MAL. Co. Ltd. CEO and stakeholder Zoltn Bakonyi stated the day after the disaster, that
the sludge was harmless, despite abundant news reports of countless alkaline burn injuries.
When asked why several people suffered burns, he could not give an adequate reply. It was due
to unfounded and misleading allegations that many affected local residents refused to believe
that the red mud contained no other toxic materials.1 During initial forum discussions, the
residents referred to Kolontr as a dead village, and many declared they are afraid to return to
their dwellings for fear of health risks. Continual uncertainty among residents has been due
partly to initial information provided by Disaster Management and its later modification by
the Public Health Service.
During the first days of the disaster, MAL. Co. Ltd. management denied responsibility,
claiming that sometimes, despite the most rigorous control measures, such disasters will happen, and also stressing that heavy rainfall contributed to what they called a natural disaster.
Company management insisted they had adhered to all regulations to the letter, and opined
that their claim was bolstered by the fact that official inspections also found the maintenance
of the sludge containment in perfect order.

4.1.2. Initial reports and statements of the National Public Health


and Medical Ocer Service (NTSZ)
Immediately after the spill, speculations arose about the toxic materials the sludge may contain.
For a long time it wasnt clear whether it was actually red mud or the alkaline water covering
the sludge, that flooded the area. According to company management and a number of experts,
the latter was the case, while other experts allege that alkaline water containing actual red mud
had caused the disaster.
On October 5th, the day after the disaster, NTSZ published a document determining
that the red mud is very low in toxic content, 2 including toxic metals. According to their published table, the sludge had a pH level of 11.8. The data seems reassuring, but the document
makes it evidently clear that it is reproducing the 1987 measurements made by the National
1

Search for bodies in the Kolontr sludge; [origo]|2010. 10. 05.


http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20101005-megtalaltak-a-vorosiszapkatasztrofa-negyedik-halottjat.html

What should we know about red mud?Background material NTSZ Orszgos Krnyezetegszsggyi Intzet NTSZ
Kommunikcis Fosztly http://www.antsz.hu/portal/down/kulso/kozegeszsegugy/iszaptarolo_szakadt_at/Mit_kell_
tudni_a_vorosiszaprol_20101005.pdf

79

Institute of Public Health (OKI) in 1987, and comparing it to the 2009 maximum soil
contaminant values. (6/2009.(IV.14.) KvVM-EM-FVM joint regulation).
Red mud test results
Components measured

Red mud

Moisture content, %

30,2

From HNO3extract
Cu mg/kg

23

Cr mg/kg

8,0

Ni mg/kg

29

Pb mg/kg

13

Cd mg/kg

Zn mg/kg

11

As mg/kg

4,3

From aqueous extract


pH

11,8

Table 1: Data from the NTSZ document What should we know about red mud?, published October 5th, 20103

Furthermore, this document published by NTSZ states that the red muds composition
is determined by properties of the bauxite mined, and the discharged, added and residual materials
from its treatment. According to the document, the sludge awaiting containment contained
10-30% dry matter and had a pH level of approximately 12-13, which contradicts the pH 11.8
featured in the table. In fact, pH levels of approximately 13 had been measured, exceeding
both values specified, and far exceeding the pH 11.8 referred to in the NTSZ table. According to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) publication, the material leaking
from the storage pool had a pH level varying from 11 to 14. 4
The ecotoxicity data published by NTSZ are incomprehensible, lacking any specification
of what the tables data actually pertains to (% toxicity), nor is there indication of the sample
preparation/solution method used, as well as the lack of a solvent control for the DMSO extract. Nitric acid solution doesnt yield an all-around metal content assessment for the sludge,
e.g. arsenic has lower nitric solubility, therefore these values are only partially indicative of
the sludges composition. However, following the disaster, the tables publication caused a
communicational disturbance.

http://www.antsz.hu/portal/down/kulso/kozegeszsegugy/iszaptarolo_szakadt_at/Mit_kell_tudni_a_vorosiszaprol_20101005.
pdf

http://www.katasztrofavedelem.hu/index2.php?pageid=lakossag_kolontar_vorosiszap2

80

4.1.3. Initial MTA statements and results


in light of the Greenpeace investigation
According to a release by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) of October 7th 2010,
the sludge contained no toxic metal.5 On the third day of the disaster, chief secretary of the
Academy Tams Nmeth stated that apart from its alkalinity, the spilled sludge has no chemical content exceeding the toxicity limit.6 In contrast to the reassuring statements from MTA
and the data published by NTSZ, considerable media interest was generated by a result
published by Greenpeace on October 8th.7 Greenpeace didnt quote results from tests of years
past, but analyzed fresh samples taken from a rainwater ditch in Kolontr on the 2nd day of
the disaster. According to Greenpeace results, ditchwater from Kolontr yielded an arsenic concentration of 0.25 mg/l, which is 25 times that of the maximum contaminant level
for tap water or groundwater, and 2.5 times that permissible for industrial sewage sludge.
Furthermore, the 40.8 mg/kg result measured in dry samples exceeds by far the permissible 15 mg/kg level for soil,8 which NTSZ had referred to only 3 days earlier. NTSZ
results pertained to acidic solutions, which yield diminutive arsenic concentrations. Test results
for mercury content showed 0.76 mg/kg, exceeding the 0.5 mg/kg limit, and for chrome, a
result of 191 mg/kg also exceeds the 75 mg/kg limit. Only the concentration of arsenic was in
excess of maximum sewage sludge contaminant levels. When neutralized or diluted, arsenic
compounds are precipitated as pH decreases, therefore the arsenic concentrations that living
organisms contract will gradually diminish in the natural environment.
The secretary of MTA questioned the credibility of the Greenpeace results,9 claiming
they are referring to two different matters. Greenpeace is referring to red mud, the consistency
of which is well known, while the Academy refers to those samples taken from the liquid phase of the
alkaline spillage. Greenpeace results are not representative, as there may have been other pollutants present in the ditches of Kolontr, and they are not representative of the entire area.
The reason Greenpeace compared its results with drinking water is that for surface water,
there are no definitive maximum contaminant levels, and in the case of arsenic and chrome,
the limits for drinking water are the same as for surface water. Pollutants will eventually
dilute and disperse, the actual concentrations are therefore established after dilution sets in.
Additionally, in theory nobody would drink the contaminated water, or till the contaminated
land. As there are no maximum contaminant levels set for red mud contaminants in living
waters, all comparison is difficult.
According to the MTA statement, the red mud contains no soluble heavy metals in excess of
maximum contaminant levels. It was later revealed that the MTA had based its statement on
5
6

http://index.hu/belfold/2010/10/07/vorosiszap_mta/
Sludge disaster: soil replacement or special use of soil put to consideration; 2010. 10. 7.
http://www.vilaggazdasag.hu/vallalatok/mezogazdasag/iszapkatasztrofa-talajcsere-vagy-a-fold-specialis-hasznositasa-johetszoba-329782

Sludge far more toxic than official report informed 2010.10.08 http://greenpeace.hu/hirek/p1/rkezdo/i272

6/2009.(IV.14.) KvVM-EM-FVM joint regulation http://www.geo-log.hu/uploads/docs/6_2009_kvvm.pdf

Greenpeace: Sludge far more toxic than reported so far; Index; 2010. October 8th
http://index.hu/belfold/2010/10/08/arzen_es_higany_az_iszapban/

81

test results from 2003, and even then there had in fact been no tests for arsenic or mercury
concentrations. Regardless, the MTA statement long served as a basis for challenging the
results of Greenpeace tests. Later on however, MTA removed its October 7th statement was
removed from their website10 Later tests conducted by MTA after the disasteralthough using different methods11had by and large similar results as Greenpeace tests, though a larger
sample size obviously led to greater variance.

4.2. Greenpeace test results


Metal content of solutions (g/l)
Samples

As

Cd

Cr

Hg

Ni

Pb

Zn

Greenpeace 2010.10.05. decanted water (Blint Analitika)

218

3,55

377

3,18

167

79,3

84,3

Greenpeace 2010.10.05.
filtered water (Blint Analitika)

250

0,94

104

1,09

26,5

5,26

106

Maximum Contaminant
Levels for sewage sludge12

100

200

500

50

500

500

1000

Maximum Contaminant Levels


for potable water

10

50

20

10

Contaminant (B)
limits for groundwater

10

500

20

10

200

2075

610

100
200

1,53

50100

40100

300
1000

Intervention levels (C) of c


ontamination (varies according
to area sensitivity)

Table 2: Metal content in red mud concomitant liquid (g/l)

After the reservoir burst, Greenpeace conducted the following investigations:


2010.10.05. Sampling was directed to assess the content of the material spilled on the streets
of Kolontr during the disaster. Tests were made both on more solid muddy material and the
liquid flowing in the rainwater ditch. 12
2010.10.22. Samples were collected from drilled wells in Devecser and Kolontr, which had
been washed over by the sludge. The object of the test was to determine the severity of the
contamination of these wells, and publishing the result to call attention to the urgency of well
10

The deleted website: http://mta.hu/cikkek/a-vorosiszap-szennyezes-hatasai-125707

11

Distilled water and ammonium-acetate

12

28/2004. (XII. 25.) KvVM regulation for maximum water contaminant levels; ch.32 Metal production
http://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=A0400028.KVV

82

decontamination. Samples from the Torna stream were used to determine the quality of its
water quality 3 weeks after the contamination. Samples were also taken in Kolontr, from the
remaining red mud, as well as plaster and dudarit, to test the materials used to neutralize the
sludge for contamination.
2010.11.11. Tap water samples were taken in Kolontr and Ajka to test for contamination.
Additionally, red mud was sampled from Basin X, and hydrochloric acid used for neutralizing was taken from a feed pipe to Basin X/a. to determine what further water pollutants may
come in contact with the water system from these sources. A further sample was taken at a
measuring well connected to the catchment basin so that the old reservoirs are also beneath
it in terms of fluid mechanics, in order to establish whether the entire drinking water supply
might be polluted.
2010.11.0212. Analysis of dust gathered by the organizations own dust collector device, in
order to test the size of airborne particles and their contents, as well as to record dust concentration data.
2011.01.26. Sampling of leachate discharge pipe, the sewer above and below the pipe, and
below the acidifying station. In order to establish what is being discharged into the sewer, and
what detectable change the acidification process brings. Also to determine what materials flow
directly into the Torna stream, this inflows comparison to maximum contaminant levels, and
an assessment of short and long term impact.
According to Greenpeaces test results, the red mud concomitant water phase contained high levels of the metals arsenic, nickel and lead several times higher than maximum contaminant levels for soil and drinking water, as ordained by regulations 6/2009.
(IV. 14.) KvVM-EM-FVM joint regulation and 201/2001. (X. 25.) government decree,
as well as the groundwater intervention levels specified in the now defunct 10/2000.(VI.2.)
KM-EM-FVM-KHVM joint regulation. Established and defunct limits were exceeded,
in the case of chrome, mercury and nickel. Only arsenic levels were in excess of maximum
sewage sludge contamination levels.

83

4.3. Water testing


4.3.1. Results from MTA (KFKI, MAFI, TAKI) tests
The Government Coordination Commission and the Interior Ministrys National Directorate
General for Disaster Management requested the chairman of MTA to form a committee of
experts to aid the disaster management effort.13 The expert committee was set up on the second day of the disaster,14 led by Jnos Szpvlgyi, director of the Material and Environmental
Chemistry Institute at the Chemical Research Centre of MTA (The Hungarian Academy of
Sciences). On the same day, the group travelled to the scene of the disaster. MTA associates
have since taken and analyzed a large number of samples.
The results of MTA tests were published in a report.15 The research facilities investigated
the following criteria:
alkalinity (pH)
physical constitution, with special regard to components posing a potential health and environmental hazard
estimates for the dispersion of these components.
They concluded that based on the analysis of samples taken from various locations, the alkalinity of the material spilled from the reservoir varies between pH 11-14. This indicates that the red
mud is environmentally hazardous. The evaluation of the red muds constitution determined
that based on our data, the spilled sludge is a heterogeneous material, its constitution varies from
place to place within specific margins. There is of course no maximum contaminant level specified for red mud, so the MTA compared its results with contaminant limits set for sewage
sludge.16 Besides the MTA and other official results, the tables below also shows results from
Greenpeace tests, specifying other valid limit levels besides the ones specified by the MTA.
Levels exceeding the permissible limits are highlighted in bold.

13

Jnos Szpvlgyi: SOME THOUGHTS ON THE DISASTER CAUSED BY THE AJKA RED MUD SPILL
http://www.matud.iif.hu/2010/12/07.htm

14

Committee members: Attila Anton and Jzsef Szab (MTA TAKI), Attila Demjn and Pter Spos (MTA GKI), Pter Br
and Lajos Vrs (MTA BLKI), Jnos Szpvlgyi and Lszl Ktai (MTA KK AKI) and Jnos Podani (ELTE)

15

A summary of test results for the Ajka red mud spill based on samples analyzed up to October 12th, 2010
http://mta.hu/data/HIREK/iszap/AKI_eredmenyek_osszefoglalasa.doc?wa=emun1021h

16

Their EU listed code number is 20 03 06 for agricultural use, in soil enhancement

84

Samples

As

Cd

Cr

Hg

Ni

Pb

MTA KK AKI 2010.10.05.

135144

n.d.

632677

1,648,59

192219

189195

MTA KK AKI 2010.10.05.

33,435,7

n.d.

83,485,8

n.d.

64,373,1

43,253,9

Blint Analitika 2010.10.05.

43,644,5

2,302,42

689721

0,540,67

281289

80,9-83,2

Blint Analitika 2010.10.05.

27,932,3 0,240,34

57,674,5

0,180,28

26,336,4

7,5211,8

Greenpeace 2010.10.05.
(Blint Analtika)

40,8

1,2

191

0,76

59,5

47,5

81,6131

0,821,44

360694

0,612,83

143322

96,2177

Maximum Contaminant
Levels for sewage sludge

75

10

1000

10

200

750

Contaminant (B)
limits for soil

15

75

0,5

40

100

2060

210

150800

110

150250

150600

MFI 2010.10.06.

Intervention levels (C)


of contamination (varies
according to area sensitivity)

Table 3: Red mud metal content (mg/kg) Source: MTA17

Dry red mud has therefore been tested both by MTA and Greenpeace to contain levels
of arsenic, chrome, mercury and nickel all far in excess of the levels limited by joint regulation 6/2009. (IV. 14.) KvVM-EM-FVM18 as Maximum Contaminant Levels for the soil.
Several MTA samples tested lead concentration at approximately double the maximum
soil contaminant level, and some samples contained cadmium concentrations slightly
over the maximum level. The since defunct joint regulation 10/2000.(VI.2.) KM-EMFVM-KHVM soil intervention level was only exceeded by arsenic concentrations in nearly
every sample. These concentration levels were diminished with soil dispersion. Maximum
sewage sludge contaminant levels were also only exceeded by arsenic concentrations. In
comparison to the earlier regulation 10/2000, the successive regulation 6/2009 omitted the
so-called action (C) levels that vary according to an areas sensitivity. We are specifying these
intervention levels for comparison.

17

http://mta.hu/data/HIREK/iszap/AKI_eredmenyek_osszefoglalasa.doc?wa=emun1021h

18

http://www.complex.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=A0900006.KVV

85

Solutions metal content (g/l)

Samples

As

Cd

Cr

Hg

Ni

Pb

MTA KK AKI 2010.10.05.


distilled water

k.h.a

k.h.a

k.h.a

k.h.a

190

60

Maximum Contaminant
Levels for sewage sludge19

100

200

500

50

500

500

Maximum Contaminant
Levels for drinking water

10

50

20

10

Maximum Contaminant
Levels (B) for groundwater

10

50

20

10

Table 4: Red mud solutions and their metal content (g/l) Source: MTA 20

Tests for distilled water soluble metal content in the red mud was carried out by MTA
AKI. Concentrations of nickel and lead were several times higher than the maximum
contaminant levels for groundwater allowed in joint regulation 6/2009. (IV. 14.) KvVMEM-FVM, and fro drinking water in government regulation 201/2001. (X. 25.), also
several times more than the minimal risk levels for groundwater, and chrome, mercury and
nickel concentrations occasionally in excess of intervention levels specified in the defunct
joint regulation 10/2000.(VI.2.) KM-EM-FVM-KHVM.
Environmentally diff used red mud and sludge concomitant water pollution is difficult
to measure against any limit values, given how the material mixes and disperses in the soil,
rainwater and living waters, thereby diminishing in concentration. Industrial sewage sludge
contaminant limits are thus hardly applicable, since they are for application under well-known
and controlled circumstances. The solubility of toxic metals alters as alkalinity changes. While
arsenic is more likely to enter an aqueous phase in an alkaline environment, other toxic metals
are only mobilized in acidic media.

4.3.2. Test results from University of Pannonia


Water chemical testing was also carried out by a team of experts from the University of Pannonia (UP). During the first phase of the disaster, neutralizing the lye dispersed with the red
mud spill was top priority, in order to save surface and subterranean waters. In cooperation
with the County Occupational Safety Commission, UP associates poured plaster, and subsequently liquid fertilizer and dolomite nitrate into the polluted living waters, primarily the
Torna stream and the river Marcal. In the wake of these interventions, water chemical levels
are now approaching normal.
Samples tested by UP associates indicated no mobilization (water solubility) of heavy
metals in alkaline solutions. Some samples contained concentrations of cadmium, copper and
19

regulation 28/2004. (XII. 25.) KvVM on maximum contaminant levels for water pollutants and applicable rules; ch. 32.Metal
production http://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=A0400028.KVV

20

http://mta.hu/data/HIREK/iszap/AKI_eredmenyek_osszefoglalasa.doc?wa=emun1021h

86

arsenic in excess of permitted levels, but this was not brought in direct connection with the
spill, considered a local contamination instead.
Experts recommend an investigation of the basin and mud of the Torna stream and the
river Marcal, to assess the effect of de-alkalizing plaster on the river sediments.

4.4. Air/dust test results


Since over 1000 hectares of land were covered by the spilled red mud, the prospect of large
quantities of red mud dust polluting the air became an immediate concern. The dust itself is
alkaline, and contains some of the toxic elements of the sludge. Coming in contact with water
inside the human body (mucous membranes, respiratory tracts, eyes), it may cause a burning,
painful sensation. In time, the carbon dioxide occurring in the air will neutralize the alkali,
the risk therefore diminishes in the long term.
Speculation arose about the effects of air-diff used dust following the disaster. In an open
letter dated October 12th, Greenpeace and Clean Air Action Group petitioned clarification of
data and increased protection for the population 21 to Minister of Interior Sndor Pintr. The
NGOs highlighted the need for continual, coherent and concise public information, something we
are presently far from attaining. Residents and rescue workers were handed out various types
of dust mask, but residents wore these only sporadically and this was probably due to insufficient notification. Experts reported from the site that the trees and buildings in the area are
covered in red dust, and that dust is regularly kicked up by rescue vehicles on dry days. In the
aftermath of the disaster, frequent rains contributed to a decrease in dust emission, and alkaline surface dust was washed away or diluted by rainwater. Clean Air Action Group asked the
Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development repeatedly for information on the level
of contamination, the concentrations of toxic pollutants, but the requested information didnt
arrive until November.
During the first days, authorities only gave notice of PM10 (airborne particulate) concentration in the air, stating that it is within, or only in slight excess of, the maximum PM10
contaminant level. For several weeks, authorities neglected to clarify the possible presence
of toxic, carcinogenic airborne substances. Maximum contaminant levels for carcinogenic
airborne substances are specified in Appendix 1 of joint regulation 14/2001 (V.9.) KMEM-FVM, 22 including chrome, arsenic and cadmium. If in fact the dust still contains some
alkali, it causes a burning, painful sensation when contacting human mucous membranes,
respiratory tracts and eyes. Greenpeace and Clean Air Action Group declared it misleading23
21

Greenpeace and Clean Air Action Group petitions Minister of Interior Sndor Pintr for clarification of data and increased
protection for the population http://levego.hu/hirek/2010/10/az_adatok_tisztazasat_es_az_emberek_fokozott_vedelmet_
keri_a_greenpeace_es_a_levego_mu

22

joint regulation 14/2001 (V.9.) KM-EM-FVM http://www.kvvm.hu/cimg/documents/14_2001_K_M_E_M_FVM.doc

23

Red mud: only thorough testing will lead to good decisions; October 15th, 2010.
http://levego.hu/hirek/2010/10/vorosiszap_csak_alapos_meresek_utan_hozhatok_jo_dontesek

87

to compare the local air quality data with general airborne particulate contamination levels,
while permissible limits for carcinogenic substances found in red mud are one thousand to ten
thousand times lower than those for airborne particulates.
Results for testing the dust pollutions constituents were published by Greenpeace on
October 13th, 2010.24 According to the Greenpeace report, the presence of fine grain PM10
dust is extremely high, and anyone in the area exposed without adequate protective equipment
faces serious health hazards. Th is statement proved to be a mild overstatement, considering
that though high PM10 concentrations are a health hazard, this is the same concentration level as Budapests air contains in nearly 80 days of each year, and in fact most of the
countrys large towns had 30-60 days with pollution levels in excess of limits, in the year
2010. The report 25 also called attention to the importance of wearing dust masks: in the areas
affected by dust pollution, it is advised to wear minimum FFP3 (also known as P3) particulate filter
(or ideally, combined filter) equipped masks that have separate exhalation valves. Filters should be
replaced every four hours, or in accordance to respiratory irritation and/or heavy breathing. A later
in-depth Greenpeace report however, stated 26 that based on a week long sampling, airborne
fine dust contaminant levels were within permissible limits.
It was only weeks after the disaster that authorities gave public notification of toxic metal
levels in airborne dust around the affected area. According to data published weeks after the
disaster, 27 though the total quantity of airborne particulates (PM10) exceeded minimal risk
levels, the concentration of individual carcinogenic substances in the air did not exceed
annual minimal risk levels.
As to the question of the health risk posed by alkaline dust, no appropriate and professionally founded statements were published. According to the Greenpeace report, when inhaled,
the alkali irritates the mucous membranes and causes intense burning, and extensive exposure may
lead o serious respiratory injury. An expert from the NTSZ stated, wearing the so-called ftp
2-3 protective dust mask, air pollution is no worse than in heavily dust-polluted Budapest. 28 The
expert reassured the general population, saying this dust is not as dangerous as we first thought,
after all this wasnt a chemical plant meltdown.
Experts from University of Pannonia modelled the gradual dehydration and dispersion
of the red mud affected surface and its impact. Modelling experiments showed that inhalable
airborne dust constitutes nearly one-thousandth of the red muds total mass, which is a high
ratio compared to breathable dust yields of other flowing substances and natural soils.

24

Greenpeace tests fine dust contamination around Devecser and suggests protective measures; 2010.10.13
http://greenpeace.hu/hirek/p1/rkezdo/i274

25

Greenpeace results for fine dust contamination and recommended protective measures for affected residents
http://greenpeace.hu/up_files/128696757420101013_porszennyezes.pdf

26

Red mud: More tests, better results; Vienna/Budapest, November 26th 2010.
http://greenpeace.hu/hirek/p1/rkezdo/i287

27

Air tested for dust contamination: http://www.katasztrofavedelem.hu/letoltes/lakossag/porszennyezetseg_20101102.pdf

28

Wounds rotting with alkali: We are to be lab rabbits the game is up in Devecser; 2010.10.26.
http://hetivalasz.hu/itthon/lugtol-rohado-sebek-kiserleti-nyulak-leszunk-all-a-bal-devecseren-32804

88

When mobilized, red mud releases a reddish, smoke-like emission which shows copious
visible fine grain dust content. Airborne dust grain size distribution ranges from fine to large.
The large particles may be deposited inside the respiratory system, developing a strongly alkaline fluid. This dust-developed alkaline solution is a serious health hazard, especially in case
of massively inhaled red mud. The fine particles enter the alveolar sacs, resulting in yet more
severe alkaline poisoning. Those entering the secured area around Kolontr and Devecser were
required to wear protective clothing. Dust pollution in the Devecser area was not critical. A
mobile air pollution testing station was set up in the Castle Park of Devecser, so that should
airborne dust levels increase, immediate notification may be sent to Disaster Management
authorities.

4.5. WHO and EU reports


4.5.1. WHO red mud report
The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe deployed an international delegation to Hungary between the 12th and 16th of October, to support Hungarian
government in combating mid- to long term health consequences of the red sludge disaster.29 By November 17th, the report containing the statements and suggestions of WHO had
been translated to Hungarian,30 WHO experts submitted their suggestions to the Ministry
of National Resources, the Ministry of Interiors National Directorate General for Disaster
Management, representatives of the Government Coordination Commission and the National
Institute of Environmental Health.
The report stated that deaths and injuries were caused primarily by the red sludges highly
alkaline pH level causing chemical burns on exposed skin and eyes.31
The WHO alerted Hungarian authorities that red sludge cleanup and rescue operations
should be manned by trained emergency crews. The report also calls for a surveillance system
and its maintenance in order to ensure that rescue workers are supplied with appropriate protective gear and clothing, and that workers really use the protective equipment.
The international report highlights that the area is of special health and environmental concern; its soil and air must be monitored continuously, as well as the health of relocated residents
and rescue crews.32 Importance of air testing and especially airborne particulate concentration
was also emphasized. The report calls for the investigation of all significant increases in air pollution, and the eradication of causes thereof. In order to detect and prevent further pollution,
and environmental pollution on a longer term, tests of air quality and the chemical constitution
of soil and water must continue in the future. WHO experts suggested further testing points to
be set up in affected settlement centres and near affected real estate. The WHO stated that an
29

WHO red mud report, Nov.17th 2010 http://www.greenfo.hu/hirek/hirek_item.php?hir=25994/

30

http://www.greenfo.hu/upload/WHO%20v%F6r%F6siszap%20jelent%E9s.doc

31

WHO report on red mud disaster; 2010. 11. 18. http://www.mixonline.hu/Cikk.aspx?id=44847

32

Sludge hazard: WHO report, November 16th 2010. http://www.stop.hu/articles/article.php?id=776244

89

urgent analysis of the remaining sludge still in the reservoir is of crucial importance, as well as a
study of the geohydrologic stratification beneath the reservoirs. They also suggest investigations
of the relocated red sludge and the reservoir used for storing contaminated soil.
Further suggestions include an investigation of possible mid to long term health effects of
contacting locally produced food and water possibly contaminated by direct contact with red sludge.
WHO experts stress that though drinking water quality remained stable in the disasters
aftermath, the general population must be cautioned that wells should be used for irrigation
only, and water from private wells should only be imbibed after appropriate testing.
They also suggested the setting up of a local regular screening network for general health,
reports and investigation of unexpected symptoms, with special attention to sensitive demographic
groups. Residents must be appropriately notified of the programme. A suggestion was made
to develop the analytic capacity and equipment of NTSZ to enable better reaction in
similar future events.
Evaluating the remediation, the WHO report states that contamination of the river Danube was successfully averted. A suggestion was made to drain the surface water from red sludge
reservoirs in order to decrease pressure as well as to enable further dehydration of the red sludge.
A suggestion was made for assessing the environmental risk factor of similar facilities
along the river Danube. The report proposes an investigation of various industrial facilities and
landfills for their resistance to extreme weather conditions, and updating emergency plans with
the participation of all parties concerned.

4.5.2. EU experts red sludge report


On October 7th, the government of Hungary asked for help from the European Commission
Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), requesting the deployment of a group of experts to
Hungary. The group of experts in minimising and countering environmental damage arrived from
France, Belgium, Sweden, Austria and Germany to the scene of the disaster on October 11th,
appointed to make suggestions for the effective management of damage caused by the red sludge.
Following an investigation in Kolontr, Devecser and the ruptured reservoir, the EU
experts compiled a report by October 17th33 and submitted it to the chief director of National
Directorate General for Disaster Management. The EU experts had previously conferred
with experts of the MTA, and received all test results from Hungarian authorities, as well as
consulting with experts making tests on location.34
The EU experts, much like the WHO experts, called attention to the importance of
further tests and investigation, which are indispensable for long term action. The report states
that drinking water quality is safe for human consumption. The EU experts called Hungarian
authorities attention to ensure by all means that the water leaking out of the reservoirs should
not come in contact with living waters.
33

RED MUD EU experts report due tomorrow, 2010. 10. 16


http://www.haon.hu/hirek/IM%3AALL%3Anews_special-hungary/cikk/vorosiszap---holnapra-elkeszul-az-eu-szakertkjelentese/cn/haon-news-charlotteInform-20101016-0904180680

34

EU experts preliminary report (statement); October 17th 2010 http://vorosiszap.bm.hu/?p=661

90

4.6. Information on the presence of further pollutants


According to MAL. Co. Ltd.s environmental permit, valid until February 2011,35 the company
is licensed to conduct the following activities at its Ajka facility (8400 Ajka-Gyrtelep, 598
hrsz.) to the following capacities:
Aluminium oxide production 300.000 tonnes/year
Gallium production 5.5 tonnes/year
Zeolite production 30.000 tonnes/year
Aluminium alloy 21.000 tonnes/year
Aluminium slag processing 3.500 tonnes/year
From an environmental point of view, the production of gallium is of greatest risk, because
the process involves the use of highly toxic mercury. According to the permit:
During aluminium oxide production, pollutants are removed from the alkaline residue after cooling, sedimentation and applying centrifugal force. The alkaline residue is used to produce Na-Gaamalgam, in mercury cathode electrolytic cells.
During the amalgam separation process, hot water is applied to produce a Na-gallate solution. The
solution is evaporated, filtered, and cemented to yield raw Ga. The raw metal is heat treated, acidified, crystallized and electrorefined to yield high purity metal.
The alkali exiting the cells is settled, its mercury content removed and united with the mercury regained from amalgam separation. The alkali is reintegrated into the aluminium oxide production cycle.
Gallium production started at the Ajka plant in 1959. The gallium works are located on
the Eastern edge of the t-1 aluminium oxide plant. According to the license, Air pollutants
released during gallium processing in the manufacture of the refined product are emitted into the environment without purification. Following the 2010 accident, the preliminary study for the new
permit36 also states that 100% of the mercury emissions are due to gallium production, totalling
around 0,004 kg/h. Earlier studies have noted the T-1 plant areas gallium works emitting
Hg pollutant, while PAH contamination was found by industrial rail track no. VII. The necessary
35

CENTRAL TRANSDANUBIAN FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES, NATURE CONSERVATION AND WATER


MANAGEMENT Subject: MAL. Co. Ltd. environmental permit
http://kdtktvf.zoldhatosag.hu/upload/File/10897-05-2(1).doc

36

MAL. Co. Ltd. Ajka Plant (8401 Ajka-Gyrtelep, Hrsz. 598.) Environmental Permit Full Environmental Review; November 2010; Szkesfehrvr http://kdtktvf.zoldhatosag.hu/upload/File/I_kotet_Tanulmany.pdf

91

remediation was performed in the year 2000, removing 7.2 m 3 and 9.0 m3 of soil contaminated with
mercury and PAH, respectively.
The technology reprocesses the mercury both from amalgam separation and alkali sedimentation. According to the study, purified mercury is held in the mercury container, then fed
back into the electrolytic cells. Fresh mercury making up for the amount lost in technology is also fed
into the mercury container. Alkali separated during mercury purification is added to the sedimented
alkali exiting the electrolytic cells, and are reused in aluminium oxide production. These words make
it obviously clear that there is a constant loss of mercury, and that reprocessed alkali are also
contaminated with mercury. Mercury emission is included in the plants environmental
permit, but its also possible that some of the mercury used finds its way into the red sludge.
NTSZ published a document entitled, What should we know about red sludge?
which makes no mention of possible mercury content. The test results produced by Greenpeace
after the disaster found 0.76 mg/kg mercury dry mass concentrations in a Kolontr ditch, while
associates of the Geological Institute of Hungary (MFI) analyzed 10 sludge samples in the
Kolontr and Devecser area, also on October 6th 2010, and found mercury concentrations of
0.61-2.83 mg/kg.37 These levels exceed the maximum mercury limits of 0.5 mg/kg for soil,
but are under the 10 mg/kg limit set for sewage sludge.

4.7. Evaluating the test results


4.7.1. Pollution of the areas land and water
Conflicting statements, and especially that of environmental state secretary Zoltn Ills stating
that unless the pollutant can be caught in the river Marcal but reaches the river Rba, then
wed all better kneel and pray!,38 filled local residents with considerable angst. Visiting the
site, the state secretary alluded to the possible carcinogenicity of inhaled red sludge dust. On
top of that, on the second day of the disaster, Zoltn Ills also declared that the next difficult
task is collecting and disposing the mildly radioactive contamination. Subsequently, all experts
refuted that radioactivity emanating from the red sludge might pose even the slightest hazard
to human health. Despite this fact, local residents were mostly worried about radioactive pollution during the first few days of the disaster.
Ills Zoltn stated that39 the areas affected are unsuitable for any useful agricultural activity,
and will bear no plants fit for human or animal consumption for fi fteen or even twenty years, and we
should thereby experiment with chemicals or bacteria that might neutralize the highly alkaline, mildly
radioactive red sludge. In reaction to the first statement, local residents declared that after the
sludge is cleared, soil must be replaced up to a meter in depth, for fear of the area becoming
37

A summary of tests related to the Ajka red mud spill conducted on October 12th 2010 http://www.geol.hu/index.
php?option=com_content&view=article&id=72:voeroesiszap-mta-vizsgalatok&catid=30:spektrumkoenyvtar

38

Ills: Wed all better kneel and pray! MTI; October 5th, 2010
http://index.hu/belfold/2010/10/05/illes_mindenki_terdre_imahoz/

39

www.greenfo.hu/hirek/hirek_item.php

92

uninhabitable for up to 30-40 years.40 In comparison, test results both foreign and domestic
prove that even cash crops may be grown on neutralized red sludge, or soil containing such
sludge, on the condition that toxic pollutants are within minimal soil risk levels.
Later, on November 24th, ministerial director Csaba Szab stated41 that the red sludge
had covered 1017 hectares of topsoil, and caused contamination below the level anticipated.
Even in the very first days of the disaster, MTA chief secretary Tams Nmeth stated that
topsoil replacement or special use are possibilities for the nearly 800 hectares of sludge contaminated land.42 According to the MTA, once the alkalinity is neutralized, the area will remain
unsuitable for farming, not even after the contamination is removed. These areas will be exempted
from farming and may be used instead for energy crop production or possibly forestry. Subsequently,
in light of new test results from MTA following the disaster, he stressed that toxic metal
contamination levels are within maximum limits for sewage sludge.
NTSZ issued a statement declaring the areas water potable, based on 120 tests. Greenpeace found no pollutants in the drinking water catchment, though one Devecser well was
found to contain 4200 micrograms of arsenic per litre, as opposed to the permissible 10.43
Local provider Transdanubian Regional Waterworks gains regional drinking water from deep
karst basins. Drinking water contamination risk is thereby minimal, though drilled wells are
prone to contamination.
Tests conducted since the disaster have shown arsenic concentrations in the Torna stream,
the river Marcal and inland waters exceeding groundwater and drinking water risk levels,
often significantly. Red sludge contained chrome, lead and nickel contaminants exceeding
now defunct intervention levels, as well as maximum contaminant levels for groundwater
and drinking water.
Dry red sludge arsenic concentrations tested by both MTA and Greenpeace were
found to significantly exceed maximum contaminant levels for soil and sewage sludge.
According to tests, these extreme arsenic levels are only present in wells, which after due
notification are hopefully only used for irrigation. According to available test results, the
contamination has stopped spreading, the drinking water catchment is unaffected; no red
sludge pollution is present in drinking waters. Further effects of high arsenic concentrations however may present further problems.

40

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20101005-megtalaltak-a-vorosiszapkatasztrofa-negyedik-halottjat.html

41

www.hirado.hu/Hirek/2010/11/24/15/Jo_hir_A_vorosiszappal_elontott_foldeken_a_talaj.aspx

42

Sludge disaster: topsoil replacement or special land use in view 2010. 10. 7. http://vg.hu/vallalatok/mezogazdasag/iszapkatasztrofa-talajcsere-vagy-a-fold-specialis-hasznositasa-johet-szoba-329782

43

Red mud: catastrophic test results, 2010.11.29.


http://hetivalasz.hu/itthon/vorosiszap-katasztrofalis-meresi-eredmenyek-33674/

93

4.7.2. Alkalinity
Several days were to pass before it was determined that the main hazard posed by red sludge
is its alkalinity.44 The media featured many confl icting statements regarding alkalinity and
its risks. Initial reports stated that hosing off the red sludge constitutes sufficient protection,
are partly correct, as washing is the most effective way to combat alkali, however, due to the
extent of the contamination, hosing was inadequate protection in cases where skin had become
exposed to the alkaline liquid at length.
According to the NTSZ publication brought out on the second day of the disaster, the
sludge awaiting containment was pH 12-13, and an attached chart cited the sludge pH at 11.8,
which is lower than the actually tested pH 13.45
Media repeatedly stated that the Ajka red sludge is not significantly alkaline. Following
the disaster, Clean Air Action Groups call for international aid was met with puzzled responses
whereby the pH 13 was considered an error, in light of far lower results. For example, the Aluminium Association of the USA opined that after 5-7 washes, the sludge couldnt possibly be
so alkaline. In an interview on Hungarian news portal Index, chemical engineer and aluminium
oxide technician Gyrgy Bnvlgyi stated46 that pH 12.8 is a maximum contaminant level for
red sludge in developed countries. For example, red sludge in the VAW Stade-plant is pH 12.1.47
However, after the disaster, most published test results reported a maximal pH level of 13. This
pH value was, however, measured in diluted concomitant liquid following the heavy rainfall.
With a 700.000-900.000 m3 spill, dilution takes considerable time to set in. It therefore appears
that the Ajka red sludge and the concomitant reddish liquid was more alkaline than average.

4.7.3. Air pollution


Authorities were slow to clarify the possible presence of toxic, carcinogenic substances in
red sludge related air pollution. In case it contains alkali, dust may burn and irritate mucous
membranes, respiratory tracts, and eyes.
Environmental organizations deemed it misleading to compare the local air quality data
with general airborne particulate contamination levels, while permissible limits for carcinogenic substances found in red sludge are one thousand to ten thousand times lower than those
for airborne particulates. Local PM10 air pollution exceeded health limits repeatedly, but the
pollution arrived partly from abroad, and affected the entire country. Several weeks after the
disaster, disaster management authorities published its detailed test results for dust pollution.
According to detailed analysis, these rigorous limit values were not exceeded by PM10 concentrations containing red sludge particles. However, no information was published regarding
alkalinity of the dust pollution. Despite the lack of appropriate notification and conflicting
information, authorities recommended dust masks to be worn to avoid alkaline risk.
44

Several experts made similar statements on the second day of the disaster: Olga Klmn and Gyrgy Bnvlgyi converse,
Egyenes beszd, 2010.10.05. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUPkndMtSSA

45

The pH scale is logarythmic, thereby a pH 9 is tenfold the alkalinity of a pH 8

46

http://index.hu/belfold/2010/10/13/vorosiszap-ph/

47

www.aos-stade.de

94

4.7.4. Confusing the population


Uncertainty and fear on part of residents was consequential from an extended absence of reassuring or relevant information regarding the extent and effects of the contamination. Statements and information regarding the contamination and its effects were often contradictory
to one another:
On October 4-5th, Ministry of Interiors National Directorate General for Disaster Management website declared the sludge contains heavy metals, including lead, and is mildly radioactive, inhaling the dust may cause lung cancer. This notification was pulled from the website on
October 5th, but had been quoted in domestic and international media.
On October 5th, NTSZ stated there is a low concentration of toxic contaminants in the
sludge. A chart was provided demonstrating that toxic metal concentrations were lower than
maximum soil contaminant levels.
On October 7th, the MTA declared the sludge contains no toxic metals, or heavy metals
soluble from the sludge to excess of minimal risk levels. The academy later pulled the statement from their website.
On October 8th, Greenpeace published results from tests conducted October 6th, showing
arsenic concentrations two magnitudes in excess of those published by NTSZ. Test samples
from a Kolontr ditch contained arsenic and other toxic metals significantly exceeding soil,
groundwater and drinking water limits.
In the days after October 8th, MTA challenged Greenpeace test results, but this was clearly
based on results from 2003, and MTA had in fact neglected to test arsenic and mercury
concentrations. Meanwhile, samples had been taken on October 5th by MTA AKI and
October 6th by MFI.
On October 13th, MTA published its results from tests after the disaster.48 The data largely
matched earlier results published by Greenpeace, and in some cases found even higher concentrations. However, MTA compared its results with maximum sewage sludge contaminant
levels, which limits were not exceeded, or only slightly.
Residents continue to face confusion due primarily to misleading and inaccurate information provided by the authorities.

48

http://mta.hu/mta_hirei/tajekoztato-a-kolontari-vorosiszap-tarozo-kornyezeteben-vegzett-vizsgalatokrol-125761/

95

4.7.5. Water pollution during the emergency


Environmental organizations were informed by the media49 of alkaline, heavy metal contaminated water being drained from the ruptured Basin X and the neighbouring reservoirs, into
the Torna stream, following acidification. Environmental organizations and representatives
of green party Lehet Ms a Politika (LMP) observed on site that 3 pipes were feeding red
liquid into the plants water drain, the water was subsequently acidified before reaching the
Torna stream. Environmentalists had documented this in November-December 2010 and
late January, 2011. During this time, EU experts called on Hungarian authorities to prevent
the water leaking out of the reservoirs from contacting living water by any means.
In November 2010, Clean Air Action Group turned to the Central Transdanubian Inspectorate for Environmental issues, Nature Conservation and Water Management, referring
to Act 2004 XXIX. 141-143. to request the investigation of the contamination reported in the
cited news article, as per regulation 27/2005. (XII. 6.) KvVM, and prevent further ecological
damage. In their reply on January 2011, the Inspectorate stated they are monitoring all emissions and there is no cause to fear further contamination. They also stated that the incident
caused by the rupture of Basin X entailed a fine for activities ruled out by the environmental permit,
and an additional waste mismanagement trial is currently underway.
Authorities reported that due to the rupture of Basin X, the leachates previously deposited therein, as well as alkaline water preventively drained from reservoir IX, will be fed into
the flow beside the reservoir, and following acidification into the Torna stream. According to
Greenpeace results published February 8th, 2011, samples of the drainage fed into the plants
drain contained 1.300 g/l arsenic, and 3.950 g/l molybdenum,50 both significantly exceeding
the maximum sewage sludge contaminant level.51 In reaction to Greenpeace results, Disaster
Management replied on February 9th that nothing is being drained from Basin X/a, the alkaline water is being recovered. The drain pipes in question drained water from reservoir IX,
as well as the leachates of other reservoirs that were formerly drained into Basin X. Disaster
Management also declared that water fed into the Torna stream complied to regulations, but
opted to lower pollution even further in the future. Several residents however informed NGOs
and representatives of LMP, alleging that pollutants from Basin X/a had been fed into the
Torna stream.

49

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20101107_elkeszult_kolontari_vedogat Mintegy hrom mter magassgban vdtltssel vettk krbe az ajkai


timfldgyr megsrlt X-es szm zagytrozjnak kiszakadt rszt, hogy meggtoljk a szennyezds tovbbi kimlst, s vasrnap
reggelre elkszlt az a lecsapol rok is, amellyel az ersen lgos vizet egy semlegest helyre vezetik.

50

http://greenpeace.hu/hirek/p1/rkezdo/i302

51

regulation 28/2004. (XII. 25.) KvVM on maximum contaminant levels for water pollutants and applicable rules; ch. 32.Metal
production http://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=A0400028.KVV

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Summary
In light of known pollution data, it is understood that the loss of life and injuries were
caused not only by the flooding but by the alkalinity of the liquid flowing with the red
sludge. Besides high alkalinity, certain heavy metals may mildly contaminate soil, groundwater and water. There is no information to determine whether the plaster and acid used
to treat the spillage has led to further ecological damage.
Red sludge contained contaminations of chrome, mercury, lead and nickel that several
times exceeded maximum levels for soil and drinking water, and occasionally exceeded now
defunct intervention levels. Arsenic concentrations for dry red sludge tested by MTA and
Greenpeace showed contamination in excess of soil and sewage sludge levels. According
to tests by Greenpeace, arsenic concentration in samples of Kolontr ditch water measured
0.25 mg/l, which is 25 times the amount permissible in drinking water or groundwater,
and 2.5 times the plants maximum sewage sludge contamination level. High arsenic
concentration mostly affected drilled wells. According to existing test results, the contamination has not spread further, and the drinking water catchment is unaffected. High
arsenic concentration may cause further problems in the long term.
Besides arsenic, red sludge also contained a significantly high concentration of mercury. This is due to gallium production processes, a known fact and documented in the
plants environmental permit. Regardless, the mercury content of red sludge was not mentioned in the NTSZ publication What should we know about red sludge.
During the first days of the disaster, authorities cited test results several decades old
to back up claims that red sludge poses no serious health or environmental hazard. During
the first week of rescue operations, residents received no factual notification of possible
radioactive contamination, or the health risks of airborne dust contamination. Affected
residents were not informed of long term environmental impact or farming related consequences until February, 2011. Authorities communicated conflicting and often unfounded
allegations throughout the entire remediation process.
The very first MTA results clarified what for years had been unclear for environmental authorities: that analysis of samples taken at various locations indicate the substance
spilled from the reservoir has a pH level that varies between 11-14. Therefore the red sludge
classifies as an environmentally hazardous substance.
That results diverge from earlier years can be partly due to the fact that the aluminium oxide plant had in recent years switched from domestic bauxite to Bosnian
and Montenegrin bauxite sources.52 The imported bauxite may differ slightly from
domestic bauxite. However, this does not explain high arsenic concentrations, given
that bauxite is not characterized by high arsenic content. Another possible explanation
for divergent results is the fact that red sludge was spilled over a considerable area, and
therefore is sure to be of heterogeneous constitution.

52

http://index.hu/ gazdasag/magyar/2010/10/07/kik_allnak_az_iszapkatasztrofa_mogott/

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Recommendations
In order to investigate long term environmental and health impact, and to lower risk
as advised by WHO and EU expert groupsextensive, continuous and prolonged
monitoring is necessary.
Further testing must clarify the reason for the red sludges unusually high arsenic content.
The population must be provided scientifically verified information about the contaminated soils future use for food and crop production.
Legislation must be passed declaring maximum contamination levels for soil, groundwater, and surface waters, in accordance with various soil and water utilization forms.
Presently there are only standards that are guidelines of a non-binding nature, and the
ambivalence of relevant comparison levels leads to uncertainty in government communication as well as rescue operations.

98

Thanks for the pollution

5. Legislation
5.1. Overview of legislation in Europe and Hungary
5.1.1. The adoption and implementation
of legislation in the light of the environmental licenses of MAL Ltd.
The legal foundation for MAL Co. Ltd. to engage in the activities it took over and was licensed
to carry out according to the privatization contract such as the production of alumina and
gallium, as well as red mud waste disposal was the environmental operating license no.
30.010-120/98. and its continued modifications. According to the terms of the license, the
company was authorised to performing the operations referred to above until 31 December
2005. The present legal analysis concerns the treatment and disposal of red mud as a manufacturing waste product, thus the other manufacturing activities are not analyzed.
The relevant legislation in force at the time when the license was issued concerned, firstly,
the classification of the waste, secondly, on the basis of that classification, the regulation of the
landfill as a built structure, and thirdly, performing the activity concerned.
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a) The classification of red mud as waste


The issue of when and how the classification of red mud as a waste (product) was regulated is
important with respect to the activity under examination. According to Government Decree
no. 102/1996 on hazardous waste substances and their treatment, in force until 31/12/2001,
all waste shall be classified hazardous that is characterised by qualities defined as hazardous
by the decree, such as caustic, corrosive, mutagenic, irritant and oxidising. For the sake of
accuracy, Annex 2 of the decree contains a list of hazardous wastes, specifying that red mud
is a grade 2 hazardous waste, under the code number V31608.
It is an important rule that the Authority issues the license for waste management based
on the documentation and declaration submitted by the applicant focusing on the issue, that
is, on the waste classification carried out by the applicant.
Starting with 01. 01. 2002, equally applied to ongoing proceedings, hazardous wasterelated activities are regulated by Government decree 98/2001. According to the Decree, in a
similar vein as under the regulation referred to above, materials shall be considered hazardous
waste if they are either designated as such by a separate piece of legislation, or, in case they are
not included in the list, if they have some particular hazardous characteristic. Authorising
hazardous waste-related activities including depositing hazardous waste require meeting
more stringent criteria and the participation of more dedicated bodies with obligations of
regular inspections than activities regarding non-hazardous waste. Furthermore, hazardous waste may only be deposited in hazardous waste disposal sites. The licensed activities
must be reviewed every 3 years, including deliberations regarding modifications where
appropriate, e.g. based on the requirement of using the best available technology in the
field of waste management.
The specifications of the Government decree are partially compatible with Directive
91/689/EEC. Th is Directive was replaced by Directive 2008/98/EC on Waste, in effect
from 12. 12. 2010., which tightened or clarified the specifications of the earlier Directive
on a number of accounts. According to the Directive, Member States may declare waste
classified as hazardous in the EU list of hazardous waste as non hazardous, pr the other
way round, provided the proper procedure is followed. However, the Directive states the
general prohibition that:
(Article 7.4) The reclassification of hazardous waste as non-hazardous waste may not be
achieved by diluting or mixing the waste with the aim of lowering the initial concentrations
of hazardous substances to a level below the thresholds for defining waste as hazardous.
Article 34 of the Directive expressly obliges Member States to ensure that hazardous
waste-related activities are subject to regular inspections:
(Article 34.1) Establishments or undertakings which carry out waste treatment operations, establishments or undertakings which collect or transport waste on a professional
basis, brokers and dealers, and establishments or undertakings which produce hazardous
waste shall be subject to appropriate periodic inspections by the competent authorities.
100

Member States are obliged to comply with EU Directive until 12. 12. 2010. Th is did
not happen in Hungarian law.
MAL Co. Ltd. was granted permission to deposit red mud in reservoir 10 in 2004,
through a modification applied to the operating license described above. By this time, however,
it was Directive 16/2001. of the Ministry of the Environment, based on Government decree
98/2001, that was in force. This Directive contains the list of wastes that has been in force
ever since. Unlike the earlier definition cited above, the new list, has a dedicated indication
for red mud (among others), with an asterisk indicating hazardous waste:
01 03 07* other waste containing hazardous substances extracted through physical or
chemical processing of metalliferous minerals
01 03 09 red mud from alumina production, different from 01 03 07
The directive containing the waste list complies with the Commission Decisions 2000/532/
EC, 2001/118/EC and 2001/119/EC.
According to the definition of the waste list quoted above, however, the red mud resulting
form alumina production, can in fact be hazardous as, depending on the technology used to
extract the mineral raw materials and on the treatment the residue was subjected to, the waste
to be treated may contain hazardous substances in concentrations which amount to having
hazardous characteristics according to both Decision 2000/532/EC and Directive 16/2001
of the Ministry of the Environment.
However, the classification of the waste is not only a compulsory requirement at a
given static moment, i.e. at the time of licensing, but it an act to be repeated periodically,
since the waste disposed and its properties change depending on its chemical constituents
and the method of treatment. It is not assumed that this autonomy is abused by applicants;
nevertheless, it would be justified to require the Authority to carry out regular, independent testing on the question of whether the waste designated in the license is actually the
same as the waste treated, and further to determine whether the current state and properties of the waste designated in the license meet the hazardous characteristics as a result of
depositing and the passage of time. Furthermore, there is need for creating the appropriate
legal environment in compliance with the regulations set forth in Directive 2008/98/EC,
along with the implementation of the Directive into national law.

101

b) Environmental regulations governing waste disposal


The construction of reservoir basin 10 for red mud disposal was finished in 2001, and the
company was granted permission for disposing waste in 2004. The regulation to be applied
was regulation 22/2001. (X. 10.) KM on the rules and particular conditions on waste disposal and the closing down and post monitoring of waste disposal sites, in force from 2001.
10. 18. until 2006. 04. 12. Concerning the existing disposal areas, the ministry regulation
called for mandatory supervision base on which a decision can be made whether the dump
site conforms to the new regulations or can be modified conforming to regulations, and if
not, than a decision has to be made to close it down. According to the regulation, all of the
existing waste disposal facilities need to initiate inspection until 1 January 2003 at the inspectorate, and have to comply with the new regulations until 1 September 2009. Interestingly
and unfortunately, this regulation does not cover the case at hand.
The objective of the regulation is compliance with DIRECTIVE 1999/31/EC and the
implementation of EU legislation in Hungarian law. The directive formulates the list of waste
disposal facilities excluded from its scope, e.g. for the reason that they fall under the scope of
other regulations or because the disposed waste is not or hazardous or only to a limited extent.
Such exceptions relevant for our case include the following as per Article 3:
ARTICLE 3, Section 2. Without prejudice to existing Community legislation, the following shall be excluded from the scope of this Directive:
the deposit of unpolluted soil or of non-hazardous inert waste resulting from prospecting
and extraction, treatment, and storage of mineral resources as well as from the operation of
quarries.
Based on the provision quoted from the directive, red sludge is not excluded from the Scope
of the directive, thus falls into its scope, it is neither unpolluted soil or inert waste.
However, the regulation 22/2001. KM. does not govern facilities under its scope in
line with the definition of the directive. According to the regulation:
Article 1, Section (2): A, the following shall be excluded from the scope of this regulation:
d) the deposit of unpolluted materials or of non-hazardous inert waste resulting from prospecting and extraction, treatment, and storage of mineral resources as well as from the
production technology related to mining operations.
Since in the given case, red mud was classified by the authority as non hazardous waste,
and as waste resulting from the extraction of mineral raw materials, it does not fall under the
scope of the regulation.

102

Regulation 22/2001. KM does not comply with the provisions of the European directive regarding wastemore accurately, mining wastenot falling under its scope, and
thus the regulations mistakenly failed to govern red mud landfi lls for disposal of red mud
classified as non hazardous.
The same exclusion is contained within regulation 20/2006. KvVM. that has entered into
force since then. A legitimate explanation is that these kinds of waste should be managed and
regulated separately based on the EU directive on the treatment and disposal of mining waste
adopted later on. This separate regulatory area was taken over by Hungarian law in 2008 according to the regulation to be analysed later on.
c) Regulation on landfills as built structures:
Directive 1999/31/EK and its appendices contain detailed provisions on the placements, technical criteria, environmental security and regular inspection of similar facilities. Due to a faulty implementation of the directive, the disposal of mining waste classified as non hazardous in international law and on the design of the built structure was not
covered by special rules, only by the general construction rules.
The landfi ll as a built structure fell under the scope of regulation 12/1986. VM in
procedures that started before 1 January 1998, whereas they fell under the scope of regulation
46/1997. KTM in procedures that started after. The construction of basin 10 was granted permission in 1993, and its construction was finished in 2001. In the context of the legislation in
force at the time of both the permission granting and the takeover, the two regulations above
each use the rule of general scope. Thus every activity of construction and every built structure
fall under the scope of the regulations except for the ones specifically specified within it. The
exceptions do not include waste disposal sites and facilities, and thus, they fall under the
scope of construction permits according to the general rules, and the responsible authority
is the general construction authority. Because the construction permit had to be assessed
with the participation of the environmental inspectorate until November 2005. Following this state, the participation of the inspectorate is not required in the case of activities
linked to environmental or integrated environmental permit as these permits specify the
conditions falling under their scope, making duplication unjustified.
Besides the procedure of permission, the construction authority keeps its important
role concerning inspection obligation. At the time when the structure is first put to use,
the authority inspects whether the structure was built according to the terms of the permit
and whether it otherwise conform to the function intended. After this, the authority checks
for stability and the obligation for proper maintenance. This post inspection obligation
is defined by 47. (2) of the Act LXXVIII. of 1997 on the Built Environment. Under the
legislation referred to, the authority must act and although for the restructuring and refurbishing the built structure if in its present state it poses any risk.

103

d) The fulfi lment of the obligation for proper maintenance and, as well as the revision,
restructuring, refurbishing, restoration or deconstruction of the built structure if its
condition poses any risk to life or health, public security or that of material assets.
In the case at hand, the construction authority under obligation to monitor the condition of basin X would have had an important role to play. Construction authorities mistakenly took the position that did not have competence. Th is circumstance is clearly an
anomaly of public administration, that will be eliminated by a modification of construction
law since passed. Nevertheless, the obligation for post inspection will only be effective if
it is carried out regularly by the authority. In any case, it is justified to make the act more
precise, and to make it mandatory to regularly check buildings causing potential risk.

5.1.2. The problem of the hazardous character of red mud waste


Investigating the permissions, it can be declared that MAL CO. Ltd. had permission for the
following substances under EWC classification.
01 03 09 red mud (700.000 tons / year)
06 05 03 sewage sludge (sludge generated during the neutralization of caustic soda content)
10 01 01 slags from power plants
10 01 02 coal fly ash
06 01 01* Sulphuric acid and sulphurous acid
06 01 06* hydrochloric acid
11 01 06* acids not specified otherwise
06 02 04* sodium and potassium hydroxide
11 01 07* bases used for pickling
11 01 09* sludges and filter cakes containing hazardous substances
11 01 10 sludges and fi lter cakes different from the 11 01 09*
On 30 March 2010, the inspectorate modified point 9.01 of the Permit under case no.
7613/2010-es, registry no. 29357/2010. Thus metallic oxides (EWC code 06 03 16) different
from 06 03 15* came to be included in the scope.

104

This statement is important on two scores. Firstly, because pH value of red mud exceeded
11.5 at the time of the accident, clearly making it hazardous under the EU directive. Otherwise the hazardous and non hazardous substance enumerated, altogether that the company
constantly receive permission for (with modifications) could have played a part in the severity
of the accident. Thus it should be investigated how much this practice, considering the technology, influenced the material and/or the red mud deposited in the reservoir.
In addition, it has to be investigated if the reservoir basin only contained the material
as per the permission. The documentation and the permission keep referring to the red mud
as non hazardous substance. Though Hungarian regulations treated red mud as hazardous
material before 1 January 2002, later it could be classified non hazardous depending on
the technology used. Here, the omission of the legislation can be identified. Material that
is classified as hazardous by the Act XLIII. on Waste Management of 2000 (all waste shall
be classified hazardous that is characterised by one ore more qualities defined in Annex 2, or
contains such substances or components, posing a risk to health or the environment due to its
origin, composition or concentration.) The appendix referred to classifies irritating and caustic
materials (categories H4 and H8 respectively) based on this definition. Alkaline substances
above pH value 9 also belong here.
Classifying red mud as non hazardous was initiated by the licensee in 2003. At this point,
the inspectorate could have used the opportunity to classify the substance in the deposit as
hazardous. However, due to the fact that the classification procedure was prolonged, a change
in the law took place. As a consequence of the modification in force from 4 December 2003, the
obligation on classification of the waste was transferred on its owner (ART. 4, section 1: the
obligation on classification of the waste in terms of its hazardousness is borne by its producer,
and if the latter could not be located, by the proprietor of the waste with notice being taken
of the provisions of separate legislation.)
However, the permit prescribes the waste proprietor to keep up to date registry documentation on the waste and send a summary of it yearly to the authority (quarterly in the
case of hazardous waste). It also specifies that the authority should be notified of any serious change concerning the waste. The fact of becoming hazardous is clearly a significant
change. The omission on the part of the licensee is obvious due to failing to fulfil the
obligation to maintain constant registry documentation and/or the obligation to report
changes.

5.2. The licenses of MAL Co. Ltd. in the context of the


Mining Directive, IPPC and BAT regulations and Seveso II
The activities of the company fall under the scope of government regulation 193/2001 on the
use of the environment, which came into force on 30. 10. 2001. According to the interim
provisions of the decree, facilities existing when it comes into force have to be obliged to be
subjected to total revision by the authority with a deadline of 1 January 2004. Based on this
obligation, the existing facilities must obtain an integrated environmental permit to carry out
105

these activities. The termination of the original license and the obligation of inspection made
the company request an integrated environmental permit which it in fact received.
The concluding provisions of the decree say it includes regulation compatible with Regulation 96/61/EC (IPPC). The Regulation referred to specifies a separate reference to landfills
indicated in points 5.1 and 5.4 in terms of the rules of their technological compliance:
Without prejudice to the provisions of this directive, the technological requirements concerning landfills falling under the scope of points 5.1 and 5.4 of Appendix I. shall be defined
by the council; acting on the basis of the recommendation of the council, according to the
procedure defined in the Contract.
The quoted Council regulation is Regulation 2003/33/EC, containing detailed regulation on the technical and compliance parameters of all kinds of landfi lls, as well as the
obligation to provide regular and independent tests on the waste accepted, and the procedure of classification. The government decree on the integrated environmental permit does
not contain this reference. On the other hand, the Council Regulation itself was adopted
in Hungarian law, in the form of regulation 20/2006 KvVM cited above, which, however,
due to the characteristic rules on entering into force does not cover the red mud disposal
facility under investigation. For a specific situation developed to the effect that the landfi ll
granted permission based on a Government Decree and provided operating permit on
the basis of interim rules was not covered by an important regulatory item, the Council
regulation. Yearly independent testing of the wast continuously deposited in the landfi ll
could have shown that the west concerned has hazardous features owing to its treatment,
its disposal or external conditions, and consequently its classification is not valid.
The practice of the inspection by the inspectorate raises further questions as well. That
is, the indicative data provided in the permit regarding the pH value of the solidified waste
material indicate that specimen 530/01 had pH value of 11,8, whereas that of 531/01 was
11,3. Though the data were merely indicative, the Inspectorate nevertheless clearly learned
that based on its pH value, the red mud should have been classified hazardous already at
the time of granting the permit. Based on the data, the significant difference or confl ict
between the tested data and the contents of the documentation should have been clarified
by the inspectorate before granting the permit itself.
In the course of carrying out IPPC inspections, the authority has the right to check
in terms of any of the data or aspects featured in the permit. True, this is not an obligation.
only an opportunity. But it is beyond a doubt that the authority would have had to clarify the
contradiction it learned from the indicative data.
Furthermore, the role of the concerned district mining directorate also needs to be
investigated regarding the concerns raised by the treatment of the red mud waste. For the
scope of ministry regulation 14/2008. (IV.3.) GKM on the treatment of mining waste, as
per Par. 1. (1) is as follows: the scope of the regulation covers the treatment of the prospecting, extraction, processing and storage of mineral raw materials (hereinafter: mining
waste). It is exactly the processing of a mineral raw material (bauxite) that is processed by
an alkaline treatment by MAL Co. Ltd. (at its Ajka site), red mud being the waste product
of this process.

106

Protection against risks related to the reservoir


Owing to the damage of reservoir basin X was to be explained by, beyond the fault of the
facility, the deficiencies of the preventative system of protection.
Act LXXIV. of 1999. on the direction and organisation of the protection against disasters and against accidents related to hazardous substances, entering into force on 01.01.
2001., specifies the rules for the protection against serious accidents together with rules for
the protection against serious disasters and emergencies owing to other reasons. ON the one
hand, the act declares, that protection and damage control are tasks of the sates, and defines
which authorities shall take part in it. On the other hand, according to the rules of special
obligations, it provides for protective and preventive measures described in section 4 for socalled dangerous plants and facilities.
Their scope is defined depending on the hazardous materials over threshold values used
in them. Section four of the act describes separate obligations of protection, but these do not
need to be fulfilled for the period of the law entering into force until 12 January 2006 in the
case of landfi lls, among others (ART. 4.(3)e.) This exception is explained by the fact that damage control measures for the exceptions specified are regulated by further, separate regulation,
with the two ministerial regulations cited above prescribing the drafting of a damage control
plan for the landfills.
The Act serves compliance with Directive 96/82/EK (SEVESO II). The rules of the Directive were equally did not cover landfi lls among others until 31. 12. 2003. This EU legislation
has been modified under the impact of the events of 2000, a year especially full of industrial
disasters. Directive 96/82/EC was modified by directive 2003/105/EC on several counts. The
modifications resulted in prcising the landfills excluded from its scope, and extended the
directive on certain tailing ponds and dams:
g) waste land-fi ll sites, with the exception of operational tailings disposal facilities, including
tailing ponds or dams, containing dangerous substances as defined in Annex I, in particular
when used in connection with the chemical and thermal processing of minerals.
The modification of the exception was adopted by Hungarian law with entry into force
by 12. January 2006.
(3) The scope of section 4 of the Act excludes:
e) waste land-fi ll sites, with the exception of facilities for the processing of tailings and slurry
resulting from the extraction of mineral raw materials (including tailing ponds or dams),
with the presence of high quantities of hazardous materials reaching determined thresholds,
in particular when used in connection with the chemical and thermal processing of waste
materials.

107

The extension of the Directive and the Act onto other facilities such as landfills described
by the above-mentioned criteria affects the obligations falling on other facilities as well. The
Directive systematically adheres to the principle that existing facilities coming to fall under
its scope after the modification shall have to comply with its provisions over a short period.
Hungarian law deals with the modification of Directive 2003/105/EC not among the
provisions of the Act but within a separate regulation. Due to the extended scope of the Act,
Government decree 18/2006 contains detailed rules compatible with the directive for existing facilities that will come under the scope of disaster protection regulations owing to the
extension of the scope.
Special rules governing mining wastes
The deficiency, referred to above, of ministerial regulation on landfi lls, i.e. the rules governing non hazardous mining waste is rectified by regulation 14/2008 GKM, in force since 11.
04. 2008. The scope of the regulation covers all hazardous and non hazardous waste the are
directly related to the extraction or processing of the raw material, and does not fall under the
scope of any other waste management regulation. The provisions of the regulation are rather
strict. Only waste products with limit of hazard levels might be excluded from its jurisdiction,
e.g. inert non polluted soil, and these only under special circumstances.
Defining the hazard level of waste is very important. It is used in the widest sense and
does not link it to being part of or registered in a list or inventory.
Hazardous waste: waste characterised by one or more attributes specified in Appendix 2 of the Act on Waste Management, or containing such substances or components, that
poses a risk to health or the environment due to its origin, composition, concentration.
According to the rules defined by the regulation. the permission granting authority is
the mining directorate. The process combines the requirement of the best available technology
(IPPC) taken from the integrated environmental use procedure, the requirements of the protection against serious industrial accidents (Seveso II), the rules of liability for environmental
damage and financial security deposit, the participation of the public (Aarhus). Altogether, it
is an integrated piece of legislation with a sophisticated perspective.
It is an important regulatory item that the waste management facility also belongs
under the authority of the mining directorate in terms of being a special kind of built
structure. The deficiency referred to above that is that pos inspection on the part of the
permission granting authorities is not a characteristic of Hungarian law is rectified by
this regulation. It expects the operator to carry out regular monitoring activities at least
yearly, in terms of the condition of both the built structure and the waste. The results of the
monitoring activity are revaluated by the authority which may decide to initiate supervision by independent experts. Over and beyond yearly inspection, the operator is obliged
to supervise all such facilities every five years. Furthermore, it is a noteworthy provision
of the regulation is not of a static, but rather a flexible reactive character: thus the authority can modify the permit of the functioning facility not only upon request, but in its own
competence of arbitration, if that is justified by the results of the monitoring report, or if
the best available technology, as registered by the EU, has changed.
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Directive 2006/21/EC on the management of waste from extractive industries equally


provides for existing facilities:
(36) The operation of waste facilities existing at the moment of transposition of this Directive should be regulated in order to take the necessary measures, within a specified period
of time, for their adaptation to the requirements of this Directive.
Hungarian regulation features this requirement against the provisions on entry into force,
and prescribes for operators to comply with technological and other requirements concerning
operating landfills as formulated within the Directive by 01.05. 2010. Unfortunately, though
it is described in eloquent terms, the financial security deposit still is an exception to the
deadline, for the deposit only needs to be presented by may 2014.
The disaster investigated has in fact illustrated the point that even if domestic law
complies with the directive on mining waste management, the rules of financial security
deposit should be presented by operators over a much shorter period. It would be by all
means justified to expect operators to present the appropriate financial security deposit
by the general 2010 deadline.
The directive on the management of waste from extractive industries was duly and properly adopted by Hungarian law and it has entered into force. Nevertheless, the question still
remains why did its practical implementation fail in the case presently investigated as well.
The rules of liability for environmental damage caused by the operation of and injuries
occurring to the reservoir basin X.
Act LIII of 1995 on the protection of the environment, as the general legislation relevant
to the present activity has included the obligation since it entered into force on 19. 12. 1995
that the rules for providing a security deposit and dedicated reserve as well as liability insurance shall be regulated by a government decree within the process of environmental licensing.
Similarly, the act declares as a general rule of liability that the licensee has a special
liability to damage caused through the use of the environment that can be limited or warded
off only under strict circumstances. The modification of the law in 2007 declared special
liability rules for the owners and private managers of the entities causing harm. The general rules however are not sufficient to provide for the satisfactory and available financial
coverage and for this reason failing to create the government decree referred to has been
a very serious omission on the part of legislators. In terms of certain sectors, and focusing
on areas raised in relation to the present issue, managing certain kinds of waste, granting
permission for landfills and mining activities are all covered by regulations which include the
obligation of providing security deposits.
The Act on Mining declares providing a security deposit optional until 1 January 2008, and
mandatory after that date.

109

Regulation on landfills requires proof to be provided of the existence of security deposit


since 13 December 2007.
Nevertheless, there is no appropriate detailed regulation on the dimensions of the deposit,
and a formal exigency of having the deposit provides no guarantee for the costs of eliminating
environmental damage wrought.
The relevant basic EU legislation is Directive 2004/35/EC on environmental liability
and the prevention and elimination of environmental damage. The fundamental idea of
the directive is to make the polluter pays principle mandatory in the field of environmental
damages.
The directive was adopted by Hungarian law, on the one hand by a modification of the
act on the environment, and on the other hand, by issuing a specific government decree. Applying the polluter pays principle had already been mandatory before adopting the Directive,
due to the general and special rules mentioned above, though with the deficiency concerning
financial deposits. Equally, the general obligation of preventing environmental damage dates
back to the time the law was adopted. The more precise rules, adopted with the implementation
of the directive, have been in force since 30 April 2007, under articles 102/A-B. These provisions
on the user of the environment concern measures to be taken in order to prevent harm, to reduce
the threat of damage and the obligation to report damage immediately, and on the other hand
the monitoring and steps to be taken by the authorities. The provisions reflecting the directive
are contained in articles 102/A-B of the Act and Government Decree 90/2007. It is an important
fact that based on the text of the Act, the authority may request information on environmental
use and damage at all times, but the business entity is under obligation to notify the inspectorate
immediately of the threat of the damage or the damage occurred, even when it has not in fact
been asked to do so, on the basis of the Government Decree.
The provisions of the Directive on mandatory financial security deposits were formally
taken over by Hungarian legislation, when it called for providing proof of the deposit in
regulations governing activities in the scope of environmental use defined in the Directive
(waste management, activities based on the of hazardous materials and goods and mining
activities linked to an integrated environmental permit).
Hungarian legislation, the Act and the Government Decree referred to above comply
with the Directive regarding the prevention and exposure of the threat of damage and
damage control. However, actual financial liability for the damage which is one of the
cornerstones of the directive has not been properly implemented in the required scope. It
is an obvious deficiency of Hungarian legislation that it lacks the framework regulations
that would make it a mandatory prerequisite for granting permission to and for operating
all activities with a threat of environmental damage to have a cost assessment made with
the participation of an independent expert, based on which the authority would be under
obligation to demand proof of the appropriate financial guarantee from the parties engaged
in activities of environmental use.

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5.3. The Role of Authorities


The severity of the red mud catastrophe in Ajka owes to factors such as
the dam break as a rapidly occurring phenomenon, as well as the enormous amount of matter
spilled, both of which are extremely hazardous factors even by themselves,
the caustic effect of the spilled matter, as well as its irritating nature, both of which proved
to be hazardous to humans and the environment alike,
the extraordinary amount of means (both material and financial) required for damage control,
the feasibility of damage control, given the nature and extensiveness of damages (rectification
of the environmental impact disaster recovery).
Due to the above, we are investigating the role of authorities concerning the red mud
catastrophe in Ajka not in general, but rather as being grouped around the main factors accounting for the severity of the catastrophe.

5.3.1. The dam break


The Mal Co. Ltd. Site at Ajka was granted its integrated environmental permit (Integrated
Environmental Permit or Permit) by order No. 12785/2006. of the Transdanubian Environmental Protection, Nature Conservation and Water Affairs Inspectorate (KDKTVF or
Inspectorate), requests towards the relevant authorities were also supplied by the Inspectorate.
Environmental aspects of the activities have been supervised by this body ever since.
The permission-granting order of the Inspectorate is largely based on the integrated environmental permission requesting documentation submitted by MAL Rt. Site at Ajka (Documentation). These documents (i.e. the Permit and the Documentation) enlist the factors that
may risk the environment of the activity (noise sources, possibilities of air and groundwater
pollution, etc.). Contaminations in the surrounding control wells (fluoride, cyanide, etc.) were
thoroughly tested between 1990 and 2000 and vertical blocking walls were built around the
reservoirs. The environmental effects of red mud reservoirs primarily occur in the form of
atmospheric emissions and alkaline contamination of the groundwater. (page 144, chapter
4.6.2. paragraph 2.). Of course, the effects of noise, air pollution, propagation of dust were
also investigated, the latter tested also concerning the reservoirs.
Nevertheless, neither the Documentation or the Permit identifies dam break as a risk factor.
The properties of dams are specified in the Documentation, it refers to expert opinions
in soil mechanics (4.4.2.), but the latter were used only for surveying hazards to groundwater.
All this is anomalous since rupture is an inherent risk factor of dams. Although the
Documentation refers to the reduction of hydraulic pressure as desirable (p. 104 in sec111

tion 4.3.4.), nevertheless, the possible consequences of hydraulic pressure are not further
elaborated. The role of wind in propagating dust is taken into account, whereas the wave
generating effects of wind on the 2-acre water surface are not. Although in Point 16.05. of
the Permit, the relevant authorities set forth the preparation of an annual status survey
concerning the red mud reservoirs, which has to include data on their sinking, still the
possible degradation of the reservoirs as constructions, etc. is not considered otherwise.
Neglecting the risk of dam break is rather surprising given that the operators had
direct experiences of such events. According to the Documentation (6.1., p. 160), a dam
break occurred during the construction of Reservoir 10 on November 3, 1991, resulting in
43,200 m3 of alkaline (pH = 10-11) slag water escaping into the environment, thus polluting
the rivers Marcal and Rba through the Torna stream to a traceable extent.
Government decree No. 193/2001. (X. 19.) was applied upon the granting of the Permit, and it sets forth the identification of sources of pollution, as well as of solutions for the
disposal of non-recoverable waste in a manner excluding environmental pollution or damage
(appendix 3, point k) ). Anyways, an enormous reservoir, designated to retaining thousands
of tons of mud, towering 21 to 25 meters above ground level (Documentation, table 4.3.4.b.,
page 101), is a danger to its environment, however thick a dam it is girdled with.
In case of concerns, the Inspectorate has to contact the authorities in accordance with
appendix 4, chapters 1. and 2. of Government decree No. 193/2001. (X. 19.). A special expert
building authority has to be consulted, still there is no expert opinion concerning the dam
mentioned in the resolution. The Notary of Ajka specifies only that disposal of hazardous
waste on the abandoned landfills is forbidden.
In summary, neither Mal Co. Ltd. requesting the Permit, nor the Inspectorate granting
the Permit (or the relevant building authority) took into account the inherent risk of breaking of dams as a source of notable hazard to the environment, which is an elementary fault.

5.3.2. Caustic eect and irritating nature of the spilled material


Both the Documentation and the Permit refers continuously and systematically to red mud as
non-hazardous matter. Although the Hungarian legislation prior to January 1, 2002 treated
red mud exclusively as hazardous waste, later on qualifying it as non-hazardous waste became
possible depending on the technology applied.
As we noted above, the legislative amendment effective of December 4, 2003 transfers
the obligation of waste qualification on the owner of the waste (4. (1) Qualification of the
waste concerning the hazardous nature thereof is bound to be performed by the producer
of the waste, or, if the former is not identifiable, by the owner thereof, in accordance with
separate legislation.), after that, the Inspectorate only acknowledged the qualification of
the owner. However, since the qualification is based on laboratory analysis, it shall be assumed
that at the time of requesting the Permit, the pH-rate of the red mud did not exceed the limit
of qualification for hazardous waste.
However, point 9.03. of the Permit obliges the owner to continuously keep up-to-date
records on the waste, and present its summary to the authorities annually (or, in the case of
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hazardous waste, quarterly). In accordance with point 4.01., important changes have to be
reported to the authorities within 15 days, and the wastes becoming hazardous is positively
an important change. Omissions by the Licensee are unequivocal, either for the omission
of the obligation of continuous record-keeping and/or for the omission of the obligation
of reporting important changes.
In the course of investigating the anomalies in the management of red mud waste,
repeated note must be made of the liability of the District Mining Inspectorate. Their argument, stating that their authority is effective if a permission has been requested (letter No.
MAL-171/2010. by the Government Commissioner to Soledad Blanco, page 6), is simply
incorrect. According to 5. (1) of Law No. XLVIII of 1993 on mining, which provides the
legislative framework for the decree, the mining inspectorate allows the management of
waste arising in the course of mining activities (point h), and is otherwise introduced authority with procedural obligations not only in the case of permitted activities, but also if
they detect the carrying-out of unauthorised activities.
It cannot be assumed that the competent District Mining Inspectorate was not aware
of the activities of Mal Co. Ltd. at Ajka, given the latters history going back to approx. 60
years, as well as its national ecopolitical importance, not to mention the mining permissions granted for its activities by the District Mining Inspectorate.

5.3.3. The extraordinary amount of material


and financial means required for damage control
Besides measures taken for the prevention of identified risks, the management of damages needs
to be arranged as well. Damage control has financial conditions. These financial conditions are to
be provided by the law sections recording the obligations and possibilities of assurance provision
and insurance underwriting, namely by 101. (5) of Law No. LIII of 1995 on environmental
protection, and by 47. (1) of Law No. XLIII of 2000 on waste management. These regulations
are void since there exists no sufficient decree for their enforcement. Due to this, application
of these law sections is voluntary, and therefore, predictable and secure financial conditions for
damage control cannot be provided. The all-time governments are liable for the omission of
decreeing (and thereby, for omitting the enforcement of Article 8 (2) of Directive No. 2004/35/
EC in the international law).

5.3.4. Other significant anomalies in the operation of the environmental protection system (incentives for prevention and the means of damage control)
According to point 11. of the Permit, the Licensee is obliged to employ a commissioner for
environmental protection and to make him available for contact to inspectors of the Inspectorate at any time. It is not known whether the company met this obligation or not. The selfassessment plan or the contents of worklogs (which, by the way, are to be cleared at the end
of each calendar year and kept for 5 years) are not known either.
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Point 12. of the Permit disposes of the obligation of the Licensee to report the following
towards the Inspectorate:
operational status other than designated (in case of malfunction)
in case of non-permitted emissions resulting from the activity
in any and all cases that may result in threatening or contamination of surface water or ground
water, of air or soil, and requires/may require acute intervention.
At the same time, in all these cases, the assigned authorities to be informed are (point 13.):
the Inspectorate,
Veszprm county Directorate for Disaster Management (in case of fire and disaster),
Veszprm county Institute of the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (upon
occurrence of accident and operational status that threatens human health)
No legal references are made, the Directorate for Disaster Management is not listed under
point 18. as an expert authority.
That is, neither the District Mining Inspectorate or any other state organ is listed among
the authorities.

Recordsobligations of reporting
The Permit disposes of obligations of continuous reporting, the completion of which is due
within 8 days of the end of the actual fiscal quarter in concern of hazardous matter, and on
March 1 of the year following the actual fiscal year in concern of non-hazardous matter.
Within the framework of reporting, the Permit disposes of the Licensees obligation of
data supply towards the Inspectorate with a deadline and data content as per appendix 1. Reporting frequency for each report type is treated in the appendix in a resolution in accordance
with effective regulations this obligation has been met by the company.
Appendix 3 specifies emissions limit values in concern of cleaned industrial water released
into the Torna stream. This value in concern of the pH rate is set between 6 and 9.5, which
contradicts point 9.02. of the Permit, wherein the same value is between 8.0 and 8.5 pH. The
textual amendment emphasizes the necessity of measuring the volume and pH rate of the
cleaned industrial water prior to its release into the Torna stream.
However, it is expressly set forth in the Permit that the weaker limit value set in appendix
3 is to be applied in concern of waste water emissions, i.e. a pH rate of 9.5 is also considered
acceptable. The justification for this remains unknown as well.
It is set forth that an overall report on the supervisions conducted and the observations made
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during the operation of the landfill (red mud reservoir basins) is to be submitted by the Licensee
to the Inspectorate annually (prior to April 30 of the year following the actual fiscal year).
This report is to include the following:
Site description of the landfill along with data thereon
Status description of the landfi ll
Data on the sinking of the levels of the landfi ll
Results of ground water analyses
Based on the available documents, such continuous reporting has been concluded only
partially.
In case of emergency occurring at the Site, the measures set forth in the water quality
damage control plan are to be taken. Therefore, the damage control plan shall be considered
part of the Permit.
Point 18. refers to altogether two provisions made by expert authorities:
Provision by Veszprm county Institute of the National Public Health and Medical Officer
Service: The activities must not generate hazardous impact on human health in employees
and the surrounding residential area.
Provisions by the Notary of the City of Ajka: Landfills for hazardous waste must not be
established on the area of abandoned slurry reservoirs. The abandoned slurry reservoirs must
be continuously recultivated and strengthened.
The two provisions by the expert authorities are rather evasive. In addition, the one by
the Notary is intriguing since all through the Permit, provisions were made in concern of nonhazardous slurry reservoirs, while at this point hazardous landfills are mentioned.

The justification in the Permit is as follows:


With reference to point 9.08, in concern of the collection of waste produced on-site the
provisions are justified by 5 of Government decree No. 213/2001 (XI.14.) on the conditions
of conducting activities relating to municipal waste, as well as by 5 (3) of Government decree
No. 98/2001. (VI.15.) on the conditions of conducting activities relating to hazardous waste.
Further reference is made to points (29 b), 14 (1), (2), and 51 (1) of Law No. XLIII of 2000
on waste management, as well as to Government decree No. 164/2003. (X.18.) on recordkeeping and data supply obligations in relation to waste.
In the section justifying the commitment made by the Notary of Ajka as expert authority,
reference is made to appendix 4 of Government decree No. 193/2001. (X.19.), through which
to Municipal decree No. 11/2001. (VII.02.), i.e. reference is made to paragraphs 28 (20) and
(21) of the regulatory plan and local building regulations of the City of Ajka.
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In the section concerned with ground water protection: During the activities, selfcontained technologies are utilized, during the operation of which raw materials, end- and
by-products may not contaminate the soil directly. Contamination may occur only in case of
malfunction emergency, as well as during the transport, loading, or storage of accessory and
raw materials. Red mud is transmitted to the storage basins through a closed piping system,
therefore, besides the environmental impact of the basins, the red mud may cause soil contamination only in case of a failure in the transmission piping system.
Point 22. of the Permit, and the later references made to the monitoring results and to
6 (1) b) and c) of the law on environmental protection in the justification section imply that
the basin that met the accident is in order. Moreover, the passage stating that besides Basin
10/a, a new reservoir is to be erected in the area on the northern side of Basins 9 and 10 can
be interpreted as proving the security of the technology. References are made to investigations conducted in 2003 as vertical enclosures (curtains) were built to protect the Kolontr
area against contamination.
Due to the construction of the vertical enclosures the state of the red mud reservoirs
environment saw significant improvement. (Note that posterior evaluations partly associate
the construction of the curtains with the soaking of the soil under the dam base, and thereby
indirectly, with the dam break.)
In the light of the above it can be stated that even within the framework of the integrated
environmental permit it is possible to miss the evaluation of important risk factors (possibility
of dam break), and moreover, clarification of obvious contradictions (pH rate of 11.8 along with
qualification as non-hazardous), and such shortcomings cannot be remedied by the monitoring
options of the authorities.
Changing the monitoring options of the authorities to obligations would upset the system,
in which the licenseeand not the authorityexecutes risk identification and is responsible
in case of realization of the risks.
However, the systemalso in its current formis deficient. Obligation of self-assessment
may be introduced to the licensee along with collateral cost bearing and liabilities, nevertheless it remains a void commitment until (financial) liability of the licensee is not warranted.
If financial liability of the licensee remains voluntary for the lack of regulation, then neither
damage prevention or even damage control is motivated by economic interests.
Legislative ruling of the financial conditions of the licensees liability may be the sole
resolution. Deposit of a security motivates for damage prevention (supplying real input data
upon the licensing application, complying with the provisions set out in the permit to avoid
immediate financial liability, and for the subsequent narrowing of liabilities), provides latitude
in damage control for both the licensee and the state, which is at times forced to act on behalf
of the former, the insurance covers the damages made to third parties and the environment.

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5.4. Charges filed following the tragedy


5.4.1. Ocial and political charges
The Veszprm Police Department initiated investigation in concern of the accident the day
after it took place, which was on October 4. Three days later the presumptive criminal action was requalified in the procedure as endangerment due to professional activities resulting
in a lethal mass disaster (the first suspicion was reckless endangerment due to professional
negligence resulting in manslaughter), and the case was taken over by the National Bureau
of Investigation. According to police communications, currently investigation of the already
confiscated documents, interrogation of witnesses, and involvement of experts are in progress.
Associates of the National Bureau of Investigation are in close collaboration with the Veszprm
Police Department and the joint authorities, as well as with the municipalities concerned
and those participating in damage control operations. In the first days of the investigation,
which chiefly consists of analyses of documents and auditions of witnesses, the police took the
general manager of Mal Co. Ltd. into custody and initiated his pre-trial detention. The issue
got political overtones as the detention was announced by the prime minister prior to actual
police action. Zoltn Bakonyi, who was released uneventfully a few days later, was suspected of
environmental damaging and public endangerment resulting in multiple fatalities in connection with the mud disaster. The general manager of Mal Co. Ltd. was accused of the signing
of the companys disaster management plan, which according to the authorities was deficient
as it did not provide an action plan for management of accidents like the one that occurred,
moreover, of not having established appropriate ramparts and signalling alarm systems. According to the primary suspicion of the police, the mud disaster occurred exactly due to the
fact that the management of Mal Co. Ltd., besides not having an elaborate action plan, has
not made sure of the adequate state of the dam. At the same time, a paper signed and stamped
by the competent executive of the regional Transdanubian environmental protection and water
affairs expert authority proves that the expert authority found everything appropriate nine
days before the disaster.

5.4.2. Charges by NGOs


As pointed out above, the Clean Air Working Group submitted a warning letter to the government already in 2003, asserting that the some 30 million tons of red mud accumulated in the
course of decades poses unpredictable risk. According to the commitment made by the organization, the issue is twofold. On the one hand, the accumulated waste matter is an environmental
risk factor. On the other hand, production of alumina and aluminium hydroxidealthough in
a lesser amountis still continued to this day, and the production of each ton of alumina result
in the production of 2 tons of hazardous waste. The reservoirs take away valuable land area from
agriculture, plus the wind carries the dry red mud to distant residential areas in the form of dust
clouds. Dilute alkali content of the mud is leaking into the soil, which endangers the vegetation
as well as the areas drinking water supply. According to the Clean Air Working Group, upon
privatization the new owners agreed in contract to manage the environmental damages that add
up to 10 billion HUF, nevertheless, no information has been issued thereon so far in spite of that
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such information qualified by the effective laws as being of public interest. The organization in
2003 advocated the initiation of a comprehensive international campaign for the elimination and
development of the red mud reservoir areas, suggesting that Hungary ask for contributions by the
EU and other developed countries to an environmentally non-destructive way of development
of such matter, as well as to the neutralization thereof. The Clean Air Working Group solicited
this suggestion to a number of government members and government officials several times, still
no substantive response has been given.
Likewise, an expert at the Clean Air Working Group filed a complaint to the Prosecution
Service in 2006 due to the red mud reservoir areas endangering drinking water bases at several
locations. The situation at the Mosonmagyarvr reservoir of MOTIM is especially distressing as
in this case, the red mud is disposed over the water basewhich is a place where also the disposal
of the citys communal waste is forbidden, exactly in order to protect the water base. However,
no investigation was initiated by the Prosecution Service, since their audit confirmed that the
measures taken by MOTIM complied with the effective regulations of the law. According to
the Clean Air Working Group, it is not the Prosecution Service that is primarily responsible
for the lack of taking action, but rather the competent environmental protection inspectorate,
whichreportedlymisinformed the Prosecution Service under heavy political pressure.
Since inappropriate official monitoring may have contributed to the red mud disaster in
Ajka, the Debrecen-based Society of Conservationists of Eastern Hungary fi led a criminal
complaint to the Chief Prosecution Service against an unknown perpetrator or unknown
perpetrators in the subject of the suspicion of reckless endangerment due to professional activities resulting in a lethal mass disaster after the accident in Kolontr. The legal position of
the non-governmental organization is that the competent environmental protection authority did not comply with the applicable provisions of the government decree on ground water
protection, as well as of the recommendation on determining the minimum requirements for
environmental monitoring executed in member states during the on-site investigation carried
out on September 23, 2010 on the basis of the decree on the environmental impact monitoring
and the integrated environmental licensing procedures. Laws for environmental protection set
forth rigorous on-site monitoring of activities to be carried out by the environmental protection
authorities exactly to allow for the avoidance of such ecological disasters.

5.5. Liability assessment


5.5.1. Liabilities of the authorities
The above legal analysis points out that all domestic authorities that were involved in the licensing and monitoring of the red mud reservoir that met with the accident committed errors.
The Transdanubian Environmental Protection, Nature Conservation and Water Affairs Inspectorate acknowledged the qualification of the disposed matter as non-hazardous waste, thereby
substantially easing the requirements concerning the disposal and the monitoring thereof.

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The same environmental protection inspectorate accepted as part of the Permit the unrealistic disaster management plan by Mal Co. Ltd., which allowed for the maximum spillage
of 300.000 m3 of matter in case of disaster, whereas in reality, the volume of escaped matter
was approximately three times larger. The signing of this disaster management plan is listed
among the charges against Zoltn Bakonyi, general manager of Mal Co. Ltd., yet the possibility of the liability of the authority in connection with that was not raised.
The Inspectorate failed to involve the competent District Mining Inspectorate in the licensing procedure.
Although the Notary of Ajka prohibited the disposal of hazardous waste at the landfi ll,
nevertheless no action was taken against de facto disposal of hazardous waste in the area.
Although from 2008 on, licensing of the disposal of waste from mining is within the scope
of authority of the mining inspectorate, the competent District Mining Inspectorate did not
check the technical appropriateness of the structure used for disposal, and did not enforce
the application of the best available technology in concern of the disposal (i.e. switching to
dry technologies).
ENone of the authorities involved paid substantial consideration to the risk of dam break.
Upon the conclusion of the contract of privatization, provisions of BAT and IPPC should
have been considered. In Mosonmagyarvr, the so-called dry storage has been applied since
the mid-80s, which is far more secure. Mal Co. Ltd. has only been recently obliged to do so
by the permit issued by the authority after the disaster.

5.5.2. Liabilities of MAL


Liability of the company operating the landfi ll is graspable in that in the course of applying
for the integrated environmental permit, they qualified the disposed matter as non-hazardous
despite the fact that qualification criteria for hazardous waste subsisted unequivocally based on
the alkalinity. Besides that, the company is partially liable for the belated and partial observation of the provisions on environmental protection set forth in the contract of privatization.
Non-occurrence of the switch (or, of the preparation thereof) to dry disposal technology even
as late as submitting application for the integrated environmental permit is once again the
companys partial liability.

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5.5.3. The consequences of decisions made in the course of damage control


(impact of gypsum and hydrochloric acid)
The aim of the damage reducing measures taken in the days following the dam break was
the mitigation of the spatial extension and the severity of environmental damages. Decisions
concerning such measures were made in an emergency situation, without lengthy pondering.
Bearing all this mind, deployment of gypsum and hydrochloric acid was (also) justifiable in
the given situation, at the same time however, damage alleviation could have been executed
in a more watchful manner, with lesser environmental risk. The materials deployed are byproducts of industrial activities, the exact composition or incidental contamination thereof is
not known. Groups of experts from WHO and the EU advocated the monitoring of long-term
environmental impact of these materials within the polluted natural waters.

5.6. Room for improvement in the regulatory environment


5.6.1. An assessment of the implementation
and enforcement of EU regulations
Our analysis showed that in connection with the adoption of EU regulations on environmental
protection, which are applicable to the case, the following have not occurred:
establishment of the appropriate regulatory environment for the rules of Directive No.
2008/98/EC on landfills, adoption of the directive to the national provisions,
compliance with Directive No. 1999/31/EC (in regard of the hazardousness of waste produced
in the course of mineral raw material extraction, as well as of the technical configuration and
environmental security of the reservoirs),
appropriate adoption in concern of Resolution No. 2003/33/EC, which contains detailed
specifications on the technical and aptitude parameters of all types of landfill facilities, as
well as on the obligation of regular independent monitoring and the qualification procedure
of the waste received (since this is not applied by Hungarian legislation to some of the facilities concerned, such as to Reservoir 10 in Ajka),
establishment of harmony with Directive No. 2006/21/EC on the management of waste
from mining (in regard of deposit of a security),
complete adoption of Directive No. 2004/35/EC (on environmental liability, prevention and
remedying of environmental damage): provisions of the directive concerning compulsorily
required financial security have only been adopted pro forma by the Hungarian legislation,
actual financial liability for damages is not appropriately and comprehensively regulated.

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5.6.2. Required regulatory changes


The Hungarian law is completely lacking the legal framework that would require a cost estimation prepared with the involvement of an independent expert as licensing and operational
feature of all activities threatening with environmental damages, on the basis of which the
authority would be obliged to require a certificate of adequate financial warranty from the
user of the environment. It is also necessary to define the exact financial conditions of the
licensees liability. On the one hand, deposit of a security motivates for damage prevention,
on the other hand it assists both the licensee and the state, which is at times forced to act on
behalf of the former, in damage control, and thirdly, the insurance covers the damages made
to third parties and the environment.
The collective introduction of a joint insurance fund (that would be filled up by the payments made by the companies concerned) and a compulsory liability insurance is desirable
for the above aims.
Preliminary supervision and regular official monitoring of the waste during operation
is inevitably necessary (also as regulatory requirement) in the case of waste disposal activities
to determine whether the waste product set out in the permit is identical to the waste that is
actually handled, as well as to determine whether the current state and the properties of the
waste product set out in the permit complies with the hazard characteristics given the effects
of unloading and passage of time.
The establishment of the appropriate regulatory environment for the rules of Directive
No. 2008/98/EC on landfills, and the adoption of the directive to the national provisions is
just as well indispensable.
It seems expedient that in the future, the impact assessment documentation required
for the licensing should be prepared by experts independent of the licensee and appointed by
the authorities (in this concern, the LMP (Politics Can be Different) prepared a legislative
recommendation in November 2010). Certain environmental uses require regular independent
supervision in order to filter out hazardous situations resulting from these activities.

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Summary
All Hungarian authorities with a role in licensing and monitoring the accident-stricken
red mud reservoir had committed errors.
The Central Transdanubian Environmental, Nature Protection and Water Management Inspectorate had endorsed the classification of the deposited material as nonhazardous waste, thus significantly relaxing requirements on disposal and subsequent
monitoring.
The environmental authorities endorsed the unsubstantiated disaster management
plan handed in by MAL Co. Ltd.
The Inspectorate failed to engage the competent District Mining Inspectorate in the
licensing process.
The notary of Ajka had prohibited the depositing of hazardous waste in the reservoir,
but failed to take steps when hazardous waste was in fact deposited in the area.
Although the licensing of mining waste deposits has been the competence of the
Mine Supervision since 2008, the competent District Mining Inspectorate did not
check the structure of the disposal site for technological compliance, and failed to
enforce use of the best available technology with regard to disposal (conversion to
dry technology).
None of the authorities substantially considered the risk of a dam break.
When the privatisation contract was concluded, IPPC and BAT requirements were
not taken into consideration. Neither was compliance with these requirements subsequently enforced in an exhaustive manner by either the environmental or the construction authorities.
Regarding the occurrence and the severity of accident, a decisive factor was the Hungarian authorities failure to treat the red mud deposited together with the slurry as hazardous
waste in the course of the licensing and inspection process, even though the alkalinity of the
material in the reservoir that was later damaged would have justified this. Licensing hazardous waste disposal entails imposing stricter standards and the participation of more authorities
than is required for treating non-hazardous waste. A more thorough procedure might have
shed light the technological risks of the landfill and the deficiencies of the emergency plan.
The company acting as the landfill operator bears liability for classifying the deposited
material as non-hazardous at the time of applying for the integrated environmental permit,
even though the alkalinity levels clearly met the criteria for hazardous waste. The company
also bears partial liability in failing to meet the environmental requirements specified in
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the privatisation contract fully and on time. Similarly, the company bears partial liability
for failing to ensure the transition (or the preparation for the transition) to a dry depositing
technology, at the latest, by the time of requesting the integrated environmental permit.
Furthermore, the occurrence of the accident can be linked to regulatory anomalies
owing to the fact there had been deficiencies in adopting and properly implementing EU
legislation.
The relevant Hungarian legislation only partially matches Directive 2008/98/EC on
waste requirements. Though it should have entered into force by 12.12.2010, the Directive was not fully implemented in Hungary. An important fact concerning the issue of the
responsibility of authorities is that the waste treatment plant belongs to the competence
of the Mine Supervision under Hungarian legislation. The directive cited imposes an
obligation of regular monitoring on the operator, to be carried out at least annually with
regard to both the condition of the built structure and of the waste, but this obligation
was not fulfilled in practice.
According to the Act on the Environment, the permit-holder (along with the owners
and managers of legal entities which cause harm) has increased responsibility for damages
incurred through use of the environment, a responsibility which may only be limited, or
transferred under very strict conditions. However, these general rules apparently come
short of providing for adequate and available financial means needed to cover for the damage incurred. According to the Act adopted in 1995, the rules governing the obligation
to provide a security deposit and to establish dedicated reserve funds in the course of the
environmental licensing process and the rules on liability insurance policies shall be laid
down in a government decree. This objective has only been formally met so far.
The documents available demonstrate that authorities in charge of granting permits
and inspection have not at all reckoned with the possibility of dam break.
On the whole, the EU legislation examined in the present analysis, provided it is
adopted and implemented in line with the intent of the legislator, seems suitable for
the prevention of similar accidents and for managing the consequences thereof. At the
same time, there is a need to adopt uniform classification criteria for hazardous waste,
unified EU-wide regulation governing security deposits and liability insurance (at least
for reasons concerning competition law), and a common EU environmental emergency
fund set up to cover environmental damage that can not be remedied otherwise.

Recommendations
The suggested measures conclusive of the legal analysis are included in point 5.6.2. of the chapter.

123

Abandoned yard three days aer the accident.


Dark band on the wall indicates flooding mud levels

6. International comparison
6.1. Alumina production in other parts of the world
The basic raw material of aluminium production, i.e. alumina is produced out of bauxite. Bauxite is one of the (not very common) components of the earths crust. It is produced by surface
mining which means the mineral can be produced after stripping off the upper surface of the
earths crust. The worlds bauxite reserve is estimated at 55 to 75 billion tons.1 The worlds
three top bauxite producer countries are Australia, China and Brazil. In 2003, Hungary was
ranked as 16th largest bauxite producer in the world.2

BAUXITE AND ALUMINA http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/bauxite/mcs-2011-bauxi.pdf

Bauxit, http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauxit

124

The countrys annual bauxite production was estimated at about half a million tons in
2005.3 However, this value dropped by half since then as today only MAL Co. Ltd. produce
bauxite in Hungary, altogether 240,000 tons in 2009.4
Country

Annual production (million tons)

1) Australia

65,2

2) China

40

3) Brazil

28,2

4) India

16

5) Guinea

15,6

6) Jamaica

7,8

7) Russia

5,8

8) Kazakhstan

5,1

9) Suriname

10) Venezuela

2,5

Altogether

199
Table 1: The worlds bauxite production in 20095

At least half of the industrial bauxite consists of aluminium oxyhydrates and minerals
(gibbsite, boehmite, diaspore) along with a significant level of iron oxides (hematite, goethite),
and silicic acid and titanium minerals as well. The two main types of bauxite is the karst bauxite which is formed on carbonate rocks and the so-called lateritic bauxite which is formed on
alumonisilicate rocks. Lateritic bauxites can be found in tropical or subtropical areas.
Composition

Karst bauxite

Laterite bauxite

Al2O3

4860

5461

SiO2

37

16

Fe2O3

1523

210

TiO2

23

24

CaO

13

04

1014

2028

Heating loss, mostly H2O

Table 2: The composition of karst and lateritic bauxites (% on waterless base) Source: Wikipedia6
3

Bauxite: World Production, By Country


http://www.indexmundi.com/en/commodities/minerals/bauxite_and_alumina/bauxite_and_alumina_table11.html

http://www.hirado.hu/Hirek/2010/10/07/15/Gorcso_alatt_a_MAL_Zrt__Tudjon_meg.aspx

BAUXITE AND ALUMINA http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/bauxite/mcs-2011-bauxi.pdf

http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauxit

125

Through the Bayer process (which is commonly used all over the world now) aluminium
oxyhydrates are dissolved from bauxite ore at a relatively high temperature along with a sodium
hydroxide (NaOH) solution. During the decomposition process, gibbsite bauxites are normally
heated up to 140C, while boehmite bauxites, which can be found in Hungary, are processed
at a temperature of 240C. After separation of ferruginous residue (red mud) by fi ltering, pure
gibbsite is precipitated when the liquid is cooled, and then seeded with fine-grained aluminium
hydroxide. The water content of aluminium hydroxide is removed by a thermal treatment process at about 1100C (the so-called calcination). The clean (in a technological sense) aluminium
oxide is called alumina. In case of bauxites processed in Hungary, the production of each ton
of alumina results in about 1,2-1,3 tons of (solid) bauxite residue (red mud).
Finally, in the so-called Hall-Heroult process cryolite (Na3AlF6) is added to the alumina
to decrease its melting point, then aluminium is made out of this molten substance by electrolysis. This technology results in a 99 to 99.7% clean aluminium.
It is worth to mention that in Ajka Alumina Plant alumina production for metallurgical
purposes added up to about 98% of the whole production in 1990, with the rest consisting of
were non-metallurgic (special) products. As a result of intense development in non-metallurgic
products (and due to the closure of the Hungarian aluminium furnaces) Ajka Alumina Plant
has not produced alumina for metallurgical purposes since 2006.

6.2. Red mud storage methods


6.2.1. Red mud storage worldwide
Due to Bayer technology, red mud is produced practically everywhere in aluminium production. However, presently this by-product cannot be processed or recycled in an economic and
efficient way. Therefore, red mud has been stored in different ways for about 120 years,7 and
in most countries only the concomitant solution, mainly alkali, is reused. The composition
of bauxite and therefore of red mud depends on the source of the bauxite. Table 2 shows the
composition of bauxite normally used in Ajka Alumina Plant, while Table 3 comprises the
composition of red mud.

Biggest Ever Red Mud Disaster in the World, Source: Index, 5 October 2010.
http://index.hu/tudomany/kornyezet/2010/10/05/nem_volt_meg_a_vilagon_ekkora_vorosiszap-katasztrofa/

126

Composition

Characteristic percentage

Al2O3

1519 %

Fe2O3

3340 %

SiO2

1015 %

TiO2

46 %

CaO

39 %

MgO

0,31,0 %

Na2Ofixed

711 %

V2 O5

0,20,4 %

P 2 O5

0,51,0 %

CO2

23 %

SO3

0.81.5 %

0.10.15 %

0.150.20 %

Heating loss

~9%

Table 3: The characteristic composition of red mud8

The big alumina producer countries evidently have large red mud reservoirs. Utilisation
and exploitation of red mud made all over the world adds up only to a few thousandths. There
is no red mud utilisation or processing in Hungary, too. There are red mud storages in the
country next to the closed down Mosonmagyarvr Alumina Plant and near the Almsfzit
Alumina Plant (also closed down) and by the still working Ajka Alumina Plant. (At the Mosonmagyarvr Alumina Plant the so-called dry red mud storing was in use.)
The biggest challenge for every alumina producer is the proper red mud storage. Some
countries, such as France, Greece and Japan, still dispose washed red mud slurry into the sea,
saying that alkali contents of red slurry is neutralised by certain components of seawater. This
solution is not allowed by EU laws, however, France has gained a permission for sea disposal
until 2015. According to data provided by Red Mud Project9 today only 7 out of the worlds
84 alumina plants dispose red mud into the sea. The dissolved alkali (that is, in this case sodium
hydroxide and sodium aluminate) contents of red mud is normally reduced by washing in every
alumina plant. During this process, the concentration of dissolved sodium hydroxide and sodium
aluminate is reduced to the thirtieth or fortieth part, to the fraction of the original value by clean
water through a multi-stage counter-current washing procedure. The washed red mud can be
treated by different filtering methods. Filtering by vacuum filters is the most common procedure.
Through this process, the quantity of concomitant fluid of the bauxite residue (red mud) can be
reduced to a great extent and, on the other hand, it equals to a washing of 2 or 3 stages.
8

Gyrgy Bnvlgyi: Failure of the embankment of a red mud pond in Hungary: The most serious accident of the Bayer process
http://icsoba.org/images/Newsletter2011.pdf

Red Mud> Disposal http://www.redmud.org/Disposal.html

127

Mainland storing technology depends on environmental conditions to some extent. Previously, only pumped diluted red mud was pumped out and it was left to thicken and dry by itself,
however, without proper protection towards the subsoil, it could easily result in the contamination of the environment, particularly of the ground water. That is why reservoirs with double,
membrane polymer and clay isolation are widespread, as this way toxic materials cannot leak out
to the environment. During the thickening process, the alkaline fluid, which accumulates on the
surface as a surplus, is normally driven back to the alumina plant. Dry red mud storing which
poses less environmental risk, is also becoming more and more common. The main principle
of dry red mud storing technology is the dehydration of the red mud. There are two common
methods to do this: one is thickening in special washing facilities and the other is filtration.
For example, several Australian companies10 reduce alkalinity of red mud down to pH 9 by a
relatively new process using seawater. In the three alumina plants of the United States (in Texas
and Louisiana)11 they use more modern but expensive technology. It is a widespread drying method
in the US to settle red mud and remove water from the surface continuously. According to experts,
in the United States an industrial disaster similar to the one happened in Hungary cannot occur
even in case of a breach in the dam, as the dry material could flow out. In the US, they also wash
the red mud through several times in order to remove alkaline. In the Sherwin Alumina Plant in
Gregory, Texas 80 percent of the red mud disposed to the reservoir is solid. According to American
experts, red mud must be damp but not mud-like. If it was too dry, it could easily give off dust, so
they spray it with water if necessary. The embankments of the reservoirs are checked at least two
times a year and extreme weather conditions are also taken into consideration at planning. These
reservoirs, for instance, could even stand up to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Besides the USA, dry
storing is also widespread in some Australian and Brazilian alumina plants.
In China, about 10 percent of the red mud is reused (however, it is not clear whether the
so-called brown sludge derived from pyrogene technology is included here as well) they produce
bricks out of it. In Japan, bauxite is enriched before the Bayer process in order to reduce the
quantity of red mud produced at the end. In Greece, red mud was disposed into the sea until
2006, however, since then filtration through high pressure filters and dry storing technology
have been introduced gradually.

6.2.2. Developments at MAL Co. Ltd. aer the accident


MAL Co. Ltd. will introduce dry technology, which is prescribed in its new licence, in two
stages. (Source: I_kotet_Tanulmany_pdf pages 40-42)
In the first stage, they add power plant gypsum to the 55% fi ltered red mud formed on the
existing drum filters, counting 20-30% to wet material. The solid material contents of the mixture increases up to 60% which makes it transportable by lorries and spreadable at the storing
place. By the effect of gypsum and natural drying it is expected to reach the required solidity
of dry sludge in 2 or 3 weeks. This stage was put into operation at the end of February 2011.
10

Queensland Alumina Limited, Rio Tinto Alcan Gove alumina plant and Yarwun plant

11

Safe sludge disposal is much more expensive; 11 October 2010;


http://index.hu/kulfold/2010/10/11/az_amerikai_timfoldgyartokat_nem_ijesztene_meg_egy_gatszakadas/

128

In the second stage, red mud formed on the drum fi lters with 55s% solid density ratio
would be filtered by newly set pressure filter thus a sludge with 65-70s% solid density ratio is
made. This dry sludge can be transported by lorries and can be spread at the storing place and
does not need further drying to become easily handled. They plan to add (a reduced quantity
of) 17 % power plant gypsum to this sludge until studies cannot prove that a further reduction of gypsum ratio is possible, or even a technology without using gypsum can be realised.
The planned deadline for putting this technology (which is regarded as final) into operation
is 1 November 2011
The applied gypsum technologyas far as we knowhas never been used before. The
application of gypsum also changes the chemical structure of red mud, during the neutralisation process sodium sulphate is formed. However, there is an element of risk in the
technologyas with any new invention.
Switching to the new dry technology cost HUF 500 million, while safety investments
such as building embankments, clearing out canal belts, closing down the damaged Basin
X, building water systems, neutralisation facilities and roads cost further HUF 1.5 billion.12
According to the new licence the change of technology must be completed by the end of the
test operation, during the test period fluid sludge will be disposed into Basin X/a. According
to the licence13 fluid red mud can be disposed into Basin X/a until 30 April 2011. Until 31
October 2011 dehydrated sludge with solid density ratio of 60% will be disposed, then, as of
1 November 2011 only the disposal of dehydrated sludge with solid density of 60-70% will
be possible.
Filtered and gypsum treated red mud will be transported to the appointed Basin X,14
mainly on an internal route by lorries, the new technology will increase delivery traffic by 4 or
5 lorries per hour. After switching to the dry red mud storing technology, the licence is valid
for alumina production of 300.000 tons/year.

6.3. Red mud utilisation worldwide


According to some experts, the problem of the red mud produced continuously in enormous
quantities all over the world can be solved the most reassuringly in the long term by the
utilisation of red mud. Due to its metal contents, red mud can be regarded as secondary raw
material. It contains iron in the biggest quantity. According to the Hungarian Academy of
Sciences (MTA) the estimated the iron content15 of about 50 million tons of red mud stored
12

Who will receive the mud-related Billions? 2011. februr 10.,


http://index.hu/belfold/2011/02/10/minden_gattestbol_csurgalekviz_folyik/

13

Announcement by the Central Transdanubian Inspectorate for Environmental Issues, Nature Conservation
and Water Management: http://hirdetmeny.magyarorszag.hu/hirdetmeny?id=388860

14

Sludge disaster: Green Authority says MAL may continue operations, conditionally; 22 January 2011
http://nol.hu/belfold/a_zoldhatosagi_szerint_feltetelekkel__de_mukodhet_a_mal

15

Poisonous fang of red mud may be broken http://www.fn.hu/zold/20101008/kitorhetjuk_vorosiszap_meregfogat/

129

in Hungary (out of which 15 million tons is moisture content) is 15 to 18 million tons. Besides
this, red mud contains vanadium, gallium, titanium and other rare earth metals16 as well.
Practically, extraction of all the metals is possible in terms of technology, however, it
is very expensive thus not profitable17 in most cases. Utilisation of red mud with the present
technology could only become profitable with much higher raw material rates and cheaper
energy prices. In some countries bricks and other building materials are made out of the red
mud without the extraction of any metals. As a trial, red mud is used in agriculture to improve
the quality of soil.
Dr Katalin Gruiz, Reader of Budapest University Technology and Economics (BME) and
Delegate of Hungary in the Committee for Risk Assessment of ECHA (European Chemicals
Agency) compiled a list of the possible red mud utilisation opportunities:18
1. Utilisation in the construction industry as a building material
Cement production
Aggregate production
Brick, block brick, building element production
Geopolymers: aluminium silicate based geopolymers to replace cement:
Si-O-Al-O-Si-O- structure
2. Usage in the chemical industry
Catalysts (TiO2 and Fe2O3 content, and for the large specific surface)
Absorbents
Ceramics
Coating
Plastics
Pigment production
3. Environment technology
Treatment of sewage and other waters
Treatment of acidic mine waters
Treatment of polluted soil
Treatment of acidic smoke gases and end gases:
SO2 absorption in alkaline red mud for neutralisation purposes,
CO2 eabsorption in alkaline red mud: to neutralise carbonisation and improve solidity

16

Rare earth metals in red mud (g/ton) Berilium (518), Gallium (3643), Nibium (3577), Molibdn (1932), Szeln (11),
Vandium (490730), Raterfordium (80100), Thorium (4550), Urn (32), Cirkon (340540) (forrs: Kiss Jnos: rcteleptan.
Tanknyvkiad, Budapest, 1982.)

17

Utilization of Red Mud for Soil Conditioner Manufacturing; 2010.10.25.


http://www.kisalfold.hu/embargo/vorosiszap-hasznositas_talajjavito_eloallitasara/2185312/

18

Red Mud Utilization http://www.mokkka.hu/drupal/node/7686

130

4. Usage in agriculture
General soil supplement
pH normalisation of soil
Improve phosphorus content, phosphorus holdback
To treat soil contamination
5. Metal industry, metal production
Metal extraction from red mud
Steel production
Extraction of micro components
Gyrgy Bnvlgyi and Tran Minh Huan summarised the most important red mud utilisation opportunities in 2009:19
To improve acidic soil;
Absorb heavy metals in soil;
Keep nutrients such as phosphorus in agricultural soil;
ceramics (tiles and floor tiles) production;
brick production;
road building; particularly the coarse fraction of red mud
component in cement industry;
additive material in iron metallurgy;
filling material in tyre and plastics industry;
pigment in paint production;
absorption of CO2 and SO2 content of smoke gases
raw material for absorbent and catalyst production
raw material for chemicals to treat water and sewage water
Redmud.org made a compilation of the biggest red mud utilisation projects in the world.20
According to 2004 estimations in China 10 % of the produced red mud was utilised for metal
extraction or for brick production, although in this number the so-called brown sludge produced by plants using pyrogen technology might have been included. In Australia, there have
been attempts to utilise red mud in the construction industry since the 80s. Alcoas plant in
Kwinana, West-Australia produces bricks from red mud and residential buildings have already
been built out of these bricks. However, the usage of these materials for houses have triggered
fierce debates as according to the Health Ministry the radiation of bricks made out of red mud
exceeds the acceptable level for residential buildings.21 Red mud is also utilised as a secondary
raw material in Japan, it is mainly used in the cement industry as an additive.
19

http://icsoba.org/images/newsletter-09.pdf, Gyrgy Bnvlgyi and Tran Minh Huan: De-watering, disposal and utilization of
red mud: state of the art and emerging technologies

20

Red Mud>Industrial Uses, http://www.redmud.org/Industrial_Uses.html

21

Australian Fluoridation News Jan-Feb 2002 Edition,


http://www.fluoridationfacts.com/ausfnews/marapr02/pollution_in_western.htm

131

There have been several attempts for red mud utilisation in Hungary too. Gyrgy Dobos
and Lajos Bartha invented the Dobos-Bartha process which aimed at the complex utilisation of
red mud (iron extraction and cement production out of the remains). The process had reached
the stage of half operational implementation by the early 70s, but after the oil price explosion
it has not proved to be profitable. Ferenc Pusks conducted cultivation tests in Hungary and
in India in the 80s and 90s on different plants and vegetables on artificial soil containing 50
% to 80 % red mud. Klra Blint Egyedn and Andrs Terp have also done cultivation tests
at the University of Horticulture. The Pannon University and the Agricultural College of
Nyregyhza have also studied the selection of plants able to grow on recultivated red mud
surface. There are several Hungarian inventions for red mud utilisation. For example, Bla
Venesz from Mosonmagyarvr has invented eleven types of soil improving agents containing
red mud and took out a patent on them.22

6.4. Similar major industrial accidents


There has never been a similar accident to the present catastrophe in the world. Wet red
mud reservoirs usually damage the environment with a leakage towards the subsoil.
We collected a few major Hungarian and international embankment accidents which
caused water and soil contamination. Accidents of water reservoir dams which are more
and less unknown for the Hungarian public have been compiled by tailings.info website:
http://www.tailings.info/accidents.htm.

6.4.1. Disasters worldwide


The Buffalo Creek Flood: a Sludge Disaster
The sludge disaster known as the Buffalo Creek Flood can be compared the most to the Ajka
red mud disaster in several respects. In February 1972 in Pittstone, North-Virginia of the
United States the dam of a grey sludge reservoir of a mining company broke through due to
the heavy rainfall for several days.23 Similarly to the Ajka disaster here the sludge reservoir
of a coal mine was built on a stream, the Buffalo Creek. It is interesting that the dams had
been checked and claimed proper few days before the disaster just like in Ajka, although local
residents discovered several cracks on the dam walls and warned the mine owners.
During the disaster 500.000 cubic meters (half a billion litres) grey sludge water rushed
into 16 mining villages. The 4 to 6 meters high flood killed 125 people, seven people disap22

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20101007-nemzetkozi-jelentesek-nyilvantartottak-a-veszelyes-helyek-kozott-a-vorosiszaptarozot.html

23

The people responsible got away with a sludge spill 30 times tougher than the one in Ajka 06 October 2010
http://www.origo.hu/nagyvilag/20101006-buffalo-creeki-katasztrofa-egy-1972es-amerikai-iszapolmes-tanulsagai.html

132

peared, 502 houses were destroyed and further 943 houses were damaged. Property damage
was estimated at USD 50 million. However, the company blamed everything on the weather,
the heavy rains, several investigating committee claimed that the company had not met several
safety and environmental regulations. Despite the facts the company has not been called to
account for the disaster.

Dioxin poisoning in Seveso


On July 10, 1976 in Seveso, Italy, a chemical industrial accident happened in the factory of
Icmesa, the affi liate company of Switzerlands Hoffmann-La Roche. 2 kilograms of dioxin
(tetrachlorine-dibenzo-paradioxinTCDD), one of the most dangerous industrial by-product
leaked off the air.
193 people suffered serious damages and another 447 people had minor injuries due
to the accidents, many faced long-term health problems. In the aftermath the frequency of
genetic disorders increased which raised the developmental abnormalities ratio among newborn babies, and the number of spontaneous abortions grew by 20 percent. 600 people were
evacuated after the poisoning which affected 37.000 people and polluted more than 2.500
hectares of land and vegetation, in addition 80.000 animals had to be slaughtered. After the
contamination, soil change needed on a vast area. The management of the plant received 2.5
to 5-years prison sentence.24
The EU principles on the prevention of serious accidents related to dangerous chemicals
was named after the Seveso accident.

A tragedy in Bhopal
On December 3, 1984 in Bhopal, India forty tons of methyl-isocyanate gas leaked out of the
Union Carbide pesticide plant resulting in the worlds worst industrial disaster. The leakage
caused the immediate death of about 8.000 people and further 20.000 people died in a few
years. About half a million people were affected by the pollution and more than 120.000 have
suffered permanent damage. According to a study published in 201025 a significant level of
contamination can be measured in the region of Bhopal even now. Most of the local women
have no regular period as pesticides cause hormone related diseases.
Those who responsible for the chemical disaster were only prosecuted in 2010, twenty-five
years after the disaster. Seven Indian employees of the Union Carbide were sentenced for two
years in prison, however, the then CEO of the company, the American Warren Anderson is
still at liberty and lives a luxury lifestyle in the USA.
24

Greatest industrial accidents of the past three decades http://www.origo.hu/tudomany/20101006-az-utobbi-harom-evtizedipari-termelessel-osszefuggo-legnagyobb-katasztrofai.html

25

New Tasks 25 Years after the Bhopal Tragedy


http://vegyi.blog.hu/2009/12/03/uj_feladatok_25_evvel_a_bhopali_katasztrofa_utan

133

Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico


In April 2010, during the most serious ever industrial disaster in the history of the United
States the British Petrols Deepwater Horizon oil rig first exploded, then sank into the sea.
They could not stop the oil spill for more than two months, thus an estimated 4.9 million
barrels that is 780 million litres of crude oil gushed into the water of the Gulf of Mexico. The
oil caused lasting damages to the marine habitats and to the coastal wildlife, however, the
major part of the spill evaporated or dissolved. The moorland of the coast has been revitalised
after a few months and less animals were killed than environmentalists feared.26 Apart from
this, the economical damages are significant. Previously, 90 percent of the fish consumption
of the States had been caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Today oyster beds became extinct or on
the verge of extinction, in addition, there is still a huge quantity of spilled crude oil on the
sea-bed which can damage the whole food chain.

The accident of Prestige crude oil tanker


On November 14, 2002, the Bahamas-registered but Greek-owned Prestige tanker sprang a
leak in a storm 50 kilometres far from the coast of Galicia, Spain.27 The ship carried 77.000 tons
of crude oil out of which 38.000 tons spilled into the sea. The spillage caused a vast ecological
disaster, the oil covered the coasts of North of Spain and South of France 2.400 kilometres
long. On the coast which was highly precious in terms of nature reserve, the carcasses of more
than 35.000 birds and thousands of sea otters were washed ashore, and even more sank into
the ocean. According to the subsequent surveys on the northern coast of Spain practically
every marine habitat, even the migratory birds have been killed, despite the efforts of masses
of volunteers who tried to clean the oil-covered animals. The damage was estimated at about
EUR 1 billion, the soar of the unemployment rate only made things worse since 60 percent
of the local people made their living by fishing.

6.4.2. Disasters in Hungary


It is hard to compare the 2010 red mud flood around Kolontr with the environmental pollution caused by Metallochemia plant near Nagyttny over a period of decades. According
to the MTA Research Institute for Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry it is difficult in
an analytical sense as they were very different types (and happened with different chemicals).
However, negligent industrial activity resulted in an extreme contamination of the environment in both cases

26

The extent of the red mud damage is not clear; 21. October 2010
http://ozonenetwork.hu/ozonenetwork/20101021-olajkatasztrofa-bp-kar-mexikoiobol-meg-nem-vilagos-mekkora-kart.html

27

Spain: Tanker sinks; 20 November 2002


http://www.greenfo.hu/hirek/print_hirek_item.php?hir=2882&PHPSESSID=07ea8d058e7aaac679bc2b438101ef38

134

Basic dierences between the two contamination cases:

Nagyttny
(Metallochemia)

Ajka - Kolontr
(MAL Co. Ltd.)

Continuous environmental load


(lasting several decades)

Instantaneous

10 cm > 1 m

35 cm

Industrial and residential areas

Agricultural and residential areas

Geographical extent
of the aected areas

20 ha polluting source (factory plant)


size of land aected approx. ten
times higher >
600.000 800.000 m3 soil

3500 ha >
10 cm 3.500.000 m3 soil
3 cm 1.050.000 m3 soil

Dierent heavy metal


pollution profile

Main pollutants:
Pb, Zn, Cu, Ni, Cd

Main pollutants:
As, Hg

Mercury (Hg)

1132 mg/kg

117 mg/kg

Chromium (Cr)

52670 mg/kg

14134 mg/kg

Nickel (Ni)

4450 mg/kg

767 mg/kg

Arsenic (As)

86 mg/kg

654 mg/kg

Duration of contamination
Dierent thickness
of (contaminated) soil
Partial dierences
in the nature of land use

Soil has been replaced in about a thousand of private gardens in Nagyttny between 2004
and 2009. The region had been polluted by the Metallochemia factory for a century with different heavy metalsdirectly through the soil, the subsoil water and the smokestacks. Because of
the slag products 800.000 cubic metres of field80 hectareshas been spoiled and have to be
replaced. A minor part of the material was used for the building of M6 motorway, and a waste
hill was built out of the rest. As a first step, they piled up a hill of 300300 metres basic area
and insulated it with foil and felt. A layer of pebbles and arable land came on the top of that, and
finally landscaping. The hill was equipped with an electric monitoring system of wire netting, too.
The 800.000 cubic metres land which was carried away from the residential area of
Nagyttny had to be replaced. This was followed by the restoration of the vegetation of the
gardens. The whole compensation project cost HUF 12 billion.
After the Ajka accident highly alkaline, caustic industrial waste spread out on about a 1435 km2 area. If an average 3 cm thick red mud spread out on a 35 km2 area that means about 1
million m3 soil. It could be the real contamination, however, there is no available technology for
replacing soil in a thickness of 3 cm. If the upper 10 cm of the soil will be replaced that means
3.5 million m3 soil has to be carried away and brought back.
At the Nagyttny contamination the main polluting heavy metals were: lead (Pb), zinc
(Zn), brass (Cu), nickel (Ni), cadmium (Cd). Pb 65-1320 , Cd 1-26, Cu 121-1500, Zn 6932828, Hg 11-32, Cr 52-670, Ni 44-50, Sn 340 and As showed 86 mg/kg ratio at some places
in the upper layers of soil. Except of Ni these mean enormous enrichments compared to the
normal or even to the acceptable values.
135

In the region of Kolontr arsenic (As) and mercury (Hg) were the most significant polluters. According to the studies As 6-54, Cr 14-134, Hg 1-17, Ni 7-67 and Pb 18-110 mg/
kg toxic content of elements was found in the upper layer of soil contaminated with red mud.
To sum up, a smaller level of contamination was found in the Kolontr region compared
to the one in Nagyttny (about 50-75%) (which is not surprising due to their different characters), however, the geographic area of the contamination is much larger.
The occurrence of heavy metals in a soil layer 0-10 cm deep around Nagyttny with cc. HNO3 solution:

Cd

Cr

Cu

Ni

Pb

Zn

Sample ID
mg/kg
N-NE/NE

1,52,6

5260

49100

44

61112

106122

N-NW/SE

2,83,3

60

127

48

196898

264755

S-SE

4,06,6

5464

224389

4346

404665

493845

SW/SE

3,05,5

5860

46284

4749

65951

121838

E-SE/SE

2,04,7

52

22

40

70958

87846

SE/E

6,17,2

50106

271581

4150

11001321

11061244

(Sources: Szab, P. 1991. A talajok lomszennyezettsge Nagyttny krnykn.(Lead Pollution


of Soil samples in the Nagyttny Area) - Agrokmia s Talajtan, 40: 297-302.; Kdr, I: A talajnvny-llat-ember tpllklnc szennyezdse kmiai elemekkel Magyarorszgon. (Pollution of the
Soil-Plant-Animal-Human Food Chain by Chemical Elements in Hungary) - MTA TAKI, 1995)
The toxic element content of sediment samples from Kolontr aer decomposition by aqua regia:

Sample
ID

As

Ba

Cd

Co

Cr

Cu

Vf3-004

5,67

4,30

42,7

0,129

3,69

14,0

5,80

Vf3-006

25,9

4,10

37,6

0,234

4,13

21,4

Vf3-008

30,9

17,4

120

0,378

9,28

Vf3-010

53,9

8,02

47,9

0,523

Vf3-012

23,9

7,46

46,8

0,235

Hg

Mo

Ni

Pb

Se

Sn

Zn

0,907

0,5

7,36

17,5

< kh

< kh

20,8

7,63

2,26

2,55

10,5

27,2

< kh

< kh

21,0

33,4

20,1

16,77

4,39

20,8

110

1,13

2,39

71,3

15,7

134

19,6

1,04

5,84

67,1

47,8

< kh

8,1

48,6

4,66

18,7

9,34

2,50

2,03

11,9

29,6

< kh

1,50

42,6

mg/kg

(Source: MTA TAKI, Studies on the Environmental Effects of the Red Mud Spillage in the
Kolontr Region in 2010 Professional Report, 2011)
Comment: There are no suitable limit values related to the concentration of pollution in
red mud or the in the sediment contaminated by red mud and in the contacting surface waters.
To apply these values to the soil or the drinking water would be too strict and unprofessional.

136

CHINOIN cypermetrine contamination in Nagyttny


On May 26, 1998 at Chinoins premises in Nagyttny during drawing off a 8 m 3 reactor
120 litres of CHINMIX 5EC spilled on the floor due to the failure.28 Chinmix 5 contains fluid
beta-cypermethrine in a quantity of 5 g/l. This synthetic pyretroid insecticide is particularly
dangerous to fish, thus is not allowed to use within 200 metres of the coast of surface waters.29
After the spillage, the workers washed the spilled insecticide down with water, but the
workshops 1.4 m3 safety pool could not receive it so they pumped it out to the gutter in front
of the workshop. They placed it on record but failed to inform the authorities. Next morning fishermen reported mass destruction of fish, the investigation started only after that in
Chinoin. Pyretroid leaked into the Danube had caused a HUF 85 million damage and left
Ercsi without drinking water for two days. It was fortunate that it did not cause bigger drinking water contamination as the pollution had not reached the water reserve of Budapest. The
pollution could not reach the waters down in the river as cypermethrine dissolves relatively
rapidly, its half-life is 27 hours.

The accident at Baia Mare and the cyanide contamination of the river Tisza
In January 2000, a cyanide pollution took place in Baia Mare, Romania, during the reexploitation of mine dumps. During the process cyanide technology was used to extract the remaining noble metals (gold, silver). This activity requires plenty of water, the washing waters with
cyanide content get back to the system after settling. The embankment of the settling pond
broke in a 30 metres section because of the high pressure and 100.000 to 120.000 m3 sewage
water highly polluted with heavy metals and cyanide got to the streams Zazar and Lpos and
from there through the Szamos to the river Tisza causing a significant contamination on the
Hungarian section of the river too. Since the main contractor had no plans for disaster management at all, efforts made to stop the spreading of the pollution were limited and inefficient.
Although, there have been subsequent attempts to reduce the poisoning with the addition of
sodium-hypochlorite but this then proved to be ineffective.
About a month after the first pollution a second significant contamination happened in
Romania during the heavy metal and non-ferrous metal production and preparation for metallurgy. The embankment of the companys cleaning plant suddenly broke through due to the
rapid melting of snow in March 2000, and about 20.000 m3 sludge polluted with heavy metals spilled into the valley under the reservoir. Due to the continuous rainfall, this sludge was
washed into the stream Novac from where the pollution reached the river Tisza through the
river Vis. The pollution at this time reached the section of the Tisza above the river Szamos
which was intact at the time of the cyanide pollution. On the evidence of the investigations
28

Dr. Ern Fleit: A Hungarian Example of Industrial Accidents: Cypermethrin pollution at the CHINOIN plant in Nagyttny
in 1998, Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, BME
http://www.epito.bme.hu/vcst/oktatas/feltoltesek/BMEEOVKASH2/chinoin_2006_harom.ppt

29

In the band not further than 1000m from the coast of lake Balaton

137

it can be stated that the polluted sludge contained lead, brass and zinc, mainly in a state of
bonded to floating materials.30

Contamination by the waste incinerator of Dorog


On July 30, 2004 from the premises of a dangerous waste incinerator managed by Onyx
Magyarorszg Kft toxic materials leaked off the gutters. According to local green organisations31 dioxin and PCB contamination leaked into a canal which was connected to the stream
Kenyrmezei and from there to the Danube. The polluting company reported the accident to
the authorities with significant delay, then did not let the staff of the authorities immediately
to the premises of the plant. In addition, the employees of the incinerator held back crucial
information and the authorities were not fully aware of what kind of pollution is to be defended.
The Committee of Defence of Esztergom passed a resolution with a significant delay on its
meeting on August 5, 2004 about the prohibition of drinking water in Esztergom, EsztergomKertvros and Tokodaltr thus residents could have drunk polluted water for several days.32
Onyx Magyarorszg Kft claimed that the applied closed technology excluded that the
materials with PCB content leak out into the factorys precipitation channel system. The
polluting material could only leak into the rainwater if someone poured a pail of PCB waste
into the canal system with a provocative intent. So Onyx reported an unknown offender to
the police. The environmental protection authority conducted investigations in the surface
waters, but the tests did not prove toxic PCB and dioxin in the stream Kenyrmezei and in
the Danube at Tt.33
An accredited laboratory Blint Analitika took samples on July 28 out of the canal of the
Dorog incinerator connecting to the stream Kenyrmezei and found dioxin and PCB compounds. The ratio of PCB compounds 400 times, the dioxins 100 times exceeded the limit.34

30
31

Source: http://www.terra.hu/cian/cian2.html
Open letter of NGOs concerning the Danube pollution at Esztergom [2004. aug. 11. 14:53]
http://www.gordiusz.hu/hirek/hirek_item.php?hir=8483

32

Ministry of Environment and Water - Report for the Environmental Committee of Hungarian Parliament on
the extraordinary event occurred at the Dorog Waste Incinerator run by ONYX Magyarorszg Kft.
http://www.kvvm.hu/cimg/documents/Tajekoztato_Kornyezetvedelmi_Bizottsagi_ulesre_08.17.doc.

33

http://www.bebte.hu/documents/kisduna.htm

34

Source: Humusz, http://www.humusz.hu/hirek/rakkelto-anyagok-mergek-szivarognak-dorogi-egetobol/771

138

6.5. Environmental hazards, proposals of civil


and green organisations in other countries
Alumina production in Brazil
Brazil is the third biggest bauxite producer of the world. There are several alumina plants in
the Amazon region. These plants are permanently criticised by natives and civil organisations
as their activity leads to deforestation, even if Alcoa Jurutis35 plant proudly claims that it
reforests its production areas. The related establishments such as aluminium refineries, ports
and railway networks cause further environmental damage.
Many have been outraged by the fact that while the Norwegian government is the biggest
sponsor of the Amazon Fund set up to protect the Amazon region, a Norwegian company
has started to produce alumina and aluminium on the protectable lands and wants to provide
electricity needed for aluminium production by a new giant hydroelectric power plant. Norways Norsk Hydro ASA, the worlds third biggest aluminium producer has recently bought up
Brazils Vale do Rio Doce company.36 Local communities and civil organisations fear that the
new development would lead to deforestation, contamination of the environment and relocation of the native people, that is endangers the life and health of the residents of the region.

Fears of red mud in Australia


According to civil organisations the alumina plant of Alcoa Pinjarra caused fluoride contamination which resulted in health problems.37 On December 19, 2001 the daily West Australian called
the region of Alcoa cancer street because of the numerous illnesses. The Pinjarra plant is one
of the largest plants in the world with a production of 3.2 tons alumina a year. According to the
leading toxicologist of the Ministry of Health the Pinjarra polluted the region with carcinogenic
arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In 2001, more than 500 complaints were filed by
residents because of the pollution of the plants in six months. The investigations revealed that
the plant emitted 390 kilograms of fluoride a year into the air. Alcoa later acknowledged that
contaminated water was leaking to the subsoil in its three West-Australian alumina plants.
In Australia they tried to utilise red mud mostly in the construction industry. Alcoas plant
in Kwinana, West-Australia started to produce bricks out of red mud, and residential building were built out of them.38 The project was halted by the Australian Ministry of Health as
35

Brazil: The double role of Norway in conserving and destroying the Amazon By Chris Lang, 26th May 2010
http://www.alcoa.com/brazil/en/custom_page/environment_juruti.asp

36

http://www.redd-monitor.org/2010/05/26/brazil-the-double-role-of-norway-in-conserving-and-destroying-the-amazon/

37

FLUORIDE POLLUTION IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA


http://www.fluoridationfacts.com/ausfnews/marapr02/pollution_in_western.htm

38

http://www.redmud.org/Industrial_Uses.html, Australian Fluoridation News Jan-Feb 2002 Edition,


http://www.fluoridationfacts.com/ausfnews/marapr02/pollution_in_western.htm

139

according to the tests, the building materials made out of red mud had a radiation level above
the limits. The red mud contained radioactive thorium and uranium.

6.6. Compensation aer industrial


disasters all over the world
After the majority of the disasters restoration is made from public money as most countries lack
the regulations which could guarantee that the polluter must have reserves for compensation,
or which could force the compensation. Normally, only the fact of criminal offence is stated
after the disasters. However, the European Union 2009 recommendation on environmental
responsibility prescribes that the responsibility involves not only the clean-up of the spilled
dangerous materials but the indirect damages caused to the flora and fauna, the land and water
reserves and other areas, but in practice, as there is no mandatory funds for compensation, the
companies cannot bear the costs of the damages.

Compensation after the cyanide disaster at the river Tisza


Hungarian rivers needed over 3 years until they could partially recover following the cyanide
contamination from the settling pond of the waste dumps in Baia Mare. As a result of the
cyanide pollution Hungary submitted a HUF 29.3 Billion claim against Romania, which included the damage to wildlife and the related rehabilitation costs. The Romanian state however
transferred responsibility for the natural disaster to Aurul. The Hungarian State filed a lawsuit
for the damage against Aurul in 2001 as it had failed to respond to the offer for out-of-court
settlement. With reference to its own inspection, the Australian company refused to take
responsibility for the disaster stating that the dam brake was brought about by circumstances
outside their scope. In 2006, the Metropolitan Court stated in the interlocutory judgement
that responsibility rested with Transgold, successor to Aurul. Later on, Transgold went into
liquidationit was bought by Romaltyn Mining, a corporation established by a British and a
Kazakh company for approximately four million Euros. Since then the British company has
resigned from the joint venture and the company became the property of Russias gold producer
Polyus Gold. This company is investing tens of millions of Euros to process gold and silver accumulated in a sludge storage in the proximity of Baia Mare as a result of extraction in the past decades,
but this must comply with the requirements of the European Union (which states that cyanide content
of the water in the sedimentation basin shall not exceed ten milligrams per litre.) The company had to
make a 35 million Euro environmental investment by the end of 2010.39
The lawsuit has not yet been closed, however, there is an increasing chance that, even in
case of winning the suit, there wont be anybody left to recover the claim from.
39

Cyanide spill in the river Tisza happened 11 years ago http://tiszakecske.blog.hu/2011/02/01/11_eve_omlott_cian_a_tiszaba

140

Sludge disaster in Buffalo Creek


When the dam of the Buffalo Creek coal slurry impoundment dam burst in 1972, the owner,
Pittstone Mining Corporation didnt recognise its responsibility and blamed the days of heavy
rainfall for the disaster.40 Many review panels announced that the company had failed to comply
with a number of provisions, yet it wasnt convicted: neither have they had to pay any penalty
nor have the owners or the operators been held accountable.
The fact that the members of the West-Virginia committee investigating the case were all
interested in coal mining or worked for authorities or government departments who would have
been responsible for preventing the incident casts doubts on the objectivity of the investigation.
In contrast, no representatives of the miners were placed in the committee. A committee set
up by the victims stated that Pittstone is responsible for the tragedy, and that the authorities
had defended the interests of mining companies and not of the people.41
After the disaster 750 homes were promised to be built but only 17 display houses and 90
flats were constructed, added to that latter were pulled up on a former waste-heap. The governor
promised 10 recovery projects but only a fragment of them were completed. The damage was
eliminated by the technical corps of the US Army instead of the company from 3,7 million
Dollar worth of public founds. Total material damage was estimated at 50 million Dollars.42
The West Virginia government filed a $ 100 million lawsuit against Pittston, but eventually
compromised with the governor in compensation amounting to one million dollars. Victims
of the disaster have initiated a number of suits against the company. The biggest joinder of 600
Parties claimed 64 million Dollars, but eventually received 13.5 million in an out-of-court
settlement, which meant 13 thousand dollars per person after deducting the costs of litigation.

Compensation after the BP Deepwater Horizon accident


The oil contamination caused by an explosion on British Petrol oil platform named Deepwater
Horizon was followed by compensation procedures and sues for damages. The US government
promised to impose strict punishment on BP having been responsible for the pollution. BP
immediately set up a 20 billion dollar compensation fund, which compensated for example local
fishermen, although many American papers claim many have been waiting for their payment
for over months. BP was estimated to have spent approximately 8 million Dollars on salvage
since the oil platform explosion by the end of 2010.
In late 2010 the U.S. government sued BP for the oil disaster.43 According to a law accepted
in 1990, polluting water with oil might involve a 1100-dollar compensation per barrel, but it
40

The people responsible got away with a sludge spill 30 times tougher than the one in Ajka, 06 October 2010

41

http://wvgazette.com/static/series/buffalocreek/Commission/commission.html

http://www.origo.hu/nagyvilag/20101006-buffalo-creeki-katasztrofa-egy-1972es-amerikai-iszapolmes-tanulsagai.html
42

Disaster on Buffalo Creek, http://www.wvgazette.com/static/series/buffalocreek/commission.html

43

American government sues BP for the oil disaster, 15 December 2010


http://www.origo.hu/nagyvilag/20101215-beperelte-az-amerikai-kormany-a-bpt-az-olajkatasztrofa-miatt.html

141

may multiply to 4300 Dollar per barrel if BP is condemned for culpable negligence or deliberateness.44 Thus, the company might be required to pay a total of 5 billion-dollar compensation.

Summary
The Bayer process is globally the most widespread method of producing Aluminium. In practical terms, this technology leads to the formation of red mud wherever it is used. Currently,
no economically viable and efficient solutions are available for the recovery of this material.
It is most often deposited (dumping it in the sea or in reservoirs surrounded by dams).
Attempts have been made to find ways of recovering it: red mud is used both as a raw
material or an additive e.g. in manufacturing bricks, road construction and soil improvement. Furthermore, the technology for extracting metals is feasible, but it is too costly).
In an international context, the trend is shifting away from wet disposal technologies
towards dry disposal, which poses less risk. (The latter method was used in Mosonmagyarvr until production was shut down there.) The alkalinity of the deposited slurry is
typically lower internationally than it is in Hungary. On the other hand, the dry technology about to be introduced in Ajka, a technology which involves blending in power plant
gypsum, has not yet been implemented at an industrial level anywhere.
The red mud disaster in Ajka is unparalleled in both its volume and its character.
Nevertheless, at least part of the lessons learned from similar industrial accidents remain valid:
The costs of remediation eventually are to be paid by the state, with the companies responsible for the accidents almost always backing out of the process to a greater or smaller extent,
Compensation for damages only takes place in the long run, with both the range of
individuals eventually receiving compensation and its extent much more limited than
was originally promised,
Personal and institutional responsibility is most rarely identified,
The impact of environmental damage typically lasts longer than was originally estimated.

44

Oil disaster: BP may be forced to pay USD 5 BN in penalties; 15 September 2010,


http://www.hirextra.hu/2010/09/15/olajkatasztrofa-otmilliard-dollaros-karteritesre-kotelezhetik-a-bp-t/

142

Recommendations
In order to reduce the risk of similar incidents and to be able to manage the resulting damage, a common EU environmental emergency fund should be established, to be financed
from payments by companies responsible for the risks.
Setting up such a fund and specifying the required level of financing calls for a review of similar industrial accidents and the subsequent compensation procedures. (As a
typical example, the BP oil disaster in the Mexican Gulf required establishing a USD 20
Million compensation fund. This was made possible by the companys financial resources,
however, as indicated above, the general rule is that there are no funds available to cover
for damage and compensation.)
In the field of regulation and supervision, the factors enforcing the application of safer
solutions posing less environmental risk should be strengthened.

143

Excavator levelling the broken dam wall.


This is the gap where the flood burst through.

7. Long-term eects,
further necessary measures
7.1. Future of impacted areas
Following the rupture of the dam, the spilled sludge and the alkaline slurry contaminated
an area of about 1000 hectares. The affected landmass, however, was even larger, as autumn
floodings went on to spread out the slurry on lands not impacted in the October accident. According to data from the Central Agricultural Office (MgSzH), approximately 1000 hectares
(based on March 2011 data, nearly 1300 hectares) of arable land was contaminated. According
to the first surveys, 600 hectares will need soil replacement and mandatory special (limited)
land use methods. The red mud cover can be considered 5-10 cm deep on average (min. 3 cm
max. 45 cm). The affected cultures included 300 ha of grassland, approx. 310 ha of prepared
arable land, 30 ha alfalfa, 150 ha corn, 15 ha millet. In Vas county, the contaminated water
stepping out of the Marcal riverbed flooded agricultural areas of significant size in the section
bordered by Nemeskocs and route no. 8.
144

For the benefit of an accurate assessment of the damage, The Central Agricultural Office
created an orthophoto map demonstrating the span of the red mud contamination. Besides this,
in order to perform radioanalitical and heavy metal examinations, the institution took samples
of grapes, carrots, lettuce and sunflower. These, however, are only suitable for assessing immediate and short-term impacts, providing little base for estimating long-term consequences.
One way of regenerating the arable lands and grasslands utilized as pastures is to neutralize the contaminants with dudarit and leave the clean-up of sludge residues up to biological
processes. This is only conceivable where the red mud cover is thinner. In areas covered by
thicker (greater than 5-10 centimetres) sludge layers, the only solution is to remove the red
mud, though this results in damage to part of the topsoil and in turn, the degradation of the
soil, as well. This is a sensitive loss on lands covered with less than average quality alluvial soil.
The pace of cleaning up the agricultural lands is slow. By the time of releasing the report,
the sludge removal had only been completed on 50 hectares between Kolontr and Devecser
while a 25 hectare area was treated and tilled in with dudarit.
Thus far, there is no reliable information available on what can be produced in the affected areas following the damage control. The production of food and feed crops definitely
runs into obstacles, in part due to judicial, in part to market factors (a typical example is that
in the wine region of Soml mountain, considered historic, wine tourism practically came to a
halt to the news of the disaster, although the sludge did not physically reach the wine producing areas). It has been suggested that the production of energy crops could be the solution, but
this solution equally raised expert concern since the toxic metals absorbed by the crops might
be released into the atmosphere during the incineration of the biomass.
A further source of problems is the affectedness of hobby gardens and farmsteads in
the vicinity of Devecser, Kolontr, Somlvsrhely, Somljen, Tskevr, Apcatorna and
Kisberzseny. Th is is where soils and groundwater testing, as well as a continuous monitoring would be the most urgent, since without the ability to produce garden vegetables, the
traditional lifestyle and livelihood of dwellers in these settlements are also at risk. Besides
rapidly carrying out investigations, the most important task would be to properly inform
the residents and to organise a service providing consultation and advice. Agricultural
work in the gardens starts as early as March, but without sufficient information, the residents will not be able to decide whether they should be concerned by the vegetables they
have grown themselves, and to know what restrictions or security measures shall govern
their traditional activities of production. The production lost to a lack of information and
legitimate precaution may lead to serious social and nutritional problems at the local level.
The third critical issue is the question of polluted riverbeds and riparian areas in the valleys
of Torna Creek and Marcal River. Secondary damage control (removing the sludge deposited
onto the banks) has already started in these areas. Nevertheless, the work advances illogically
(dredging was begun at the mid section of the Marcal, entailing the risk of recontamination
in the lower river section while carrying out the clean-up of the upper section later on).

145

7.2. Long-term health hazards


Hungarian experts, as well as the healthcare work group of WHO and the EU visiting
Kolontr agreed that two significant sources of risks emerged following the accident. The
health damaging effect of pollutants (arsenic and mercury above all) that have gotten into
the soil and groundwater, must be taken into consideration. Arsenic can develop its toxicity
mainly by appearing in dug wells and entering the food chain. Red mud escaped into the
environment and deposited on the surface is a similarly important problem. The material
truly acting sludge-like at the time of the accident, once dry, dusts off and can be carried
by winds over a distance of several dozen kilometres. The dust of the red mud is alkaline
itself, too, besides containing toxic elements as well (thus it is controversial that air pollution
caused by red mud is compared to the general threshold for airborne dust, although only a
fraction of the allowed dust concentration is permissible for carcinogenic materials under the
legislation). Rough particulate matter of the alkaline dust has a caustic effect in the human
organism when getting in contact with fluids. The fine particulates getting inside of the pulmonary alveoli also have a caustic effect and damage the thin tissues responsible for breathing.
Experts state that no safe limit values can be set for the alkaline dust laden with toxic metals
(safe limit values meaning such a load, under which the organism exposed to the harming
effect does not suffer damage in any way).
Among the harmful health effects, one should also mention the psychological shock
caused by the disaster, as well as the posttraumatic effects due to the fact that livelihoods
have been put at peril.

7.3. Long-term environmental impacts


As noted above, most environmental problems may occur due to the toxic metals (arsenic,
mercury, chromium, lead, nickel) gotten into the soil and waters, as well as due to the alkalinity
of the slurry. It is to be expected, that on the most severely damaged lands in the vicinity of
the reservoir, no agricultural activity will be possible in the future; here afforestation may
be the only method of utilization (along with the same problems we have already mentioned
in relation to the energy crops).
It should be noted at the same time that it is really difficult to determine the long-term
environmental risks, since no similar accident has happened anywhere in the world. Based on
data found in specialized literature, alkalinity of the red mud dust will diminish with time,
due to exposure to the carbon dioxide content of the air. However, there is no reliable information available in what way the red mud spilled, still present in significant proportions in the
environment will affect the natural flora and fauna of the region.
That is why it is necessary to accurately measure the chemical composition of the
contaminants at a sufficient number of locations, specifying the oxidation stage of the metals, since for example while chromium(III) is not really toxic, chromium(VI) represents a
serious health hazard. From the perspective of mitigation, the composition of the substances
146

is especially important, because whereas lye binds toxic metals, it can release them into the
environment when exposed to acids, causing problems in the long run.

7.3.1. Long-term eects to the soil


Predicting prolonged effects is hindered by the fact that pollution caused by the red mud
and its slurry escaped into the environment cannot be referenced to specific threshold data,
since the contamination gradually mixes, dilutes in the soil. Solubility of toxic metals also
varies with the change in alkalinity. While arsenic enters the aqueous phase more readily in
an alkaline medium, multiple toxic metals are only mobilized in acidic media.
Greenpeace forecasts that in the long run, at least three other elements from the red mud
spill in the Ajka region besides arsenic may pose prolonged environmental and health problems.
The antimony, nickel and cadmium content of the contamination may be equally problematic
to humans, animals and the environment although from these only the concentration of
the arsenic is considered to be at critical level. Located in Vienna, the Austrian Environment
Agency (UBA) led research immediately following the accident detected 40 mg/kg value for
the antimony that is classified as potentially carcinogenic, three times the permitted limit
in soils. The allergenic nickel count was 270 mg/kg, also a ratio above the threshold allowable
in soils. The 7 mg/kg cadmium concentration could be below the threshold, but in the case
of soils already laden with cadmium, for example due to using artificial fertilizers, it may still
represent a concern. Cadmium is harmful to the reproductive and nervous systems.
It is important to note in regard to alkalinity and toxic metals that according to the research done thus far, nowhere did the contamination penetrate deeper than 10 centimetres
into the soils. This relatively favourable circumstance for damage control can be explained
with the structure of the red mud, especially its pore clogging characteristics.

7.3.2. Long-term eects to waters


To the surface water flows the alkaline slurry caused mainly short-term grievous environmental damage. The damaging effects of the slurry spread onto the floodplain and the
sludge deposited in the riverbed have to be taken into consideration in multi-year perspective, too. Gypsum used to neutralize contaminants decreases the pH, promotes the deposition
of the suspended red mud particles and bonds toxins to itself. Because of this (as well as due
to the power plant gypsum potentially being further contaminated), the red mud mixed with
gypsum, in some places of 50-70 cm thickness, has to be dredged from the beds of the Torna
Creek, the Marcal River and to a smaller extent the Rba River.
A relatively small amount of acids used for neutralization got into rivers; this amount was
diluted in the meantime and went adrift, it does not take any further intervention.
Groundwater and drilled wells have to be tested on a continuous basis mainly for toxic
metals and to detect water alkalinity. It can be expected that for the next few years or decades
drilled wells of the region will only be suitable for irrigation, that is, even their use as drinking
water for animals will be too risky.

147

7.4. Long-term eects of the measures taken


Detailed evaluation of administrative measures aimed for handling the mitigation of damages and
of the consequences in the days following the accident, has not been done yet. Experts generally
agree that it has been beneficial to use acids and gypsum for neutralization, in order to protect
the wildlife of more distant water bodies (Rba, Danube). It occurred, at the same time, that larger
amounts of these materials were also stored at locations closer to the site of the accident, this way the
relief work could have been solved with less environmental pollution attributed to transportation.
During the time that has elapsed since the accident, the justifiability of the dam system
construction began in the first days has not been proven. Many experts voiced doubts as to
the necessity of the multi billion Forint investment. Furthermore, the decision to transport
red mud and the contaminated soil from the relieved areas to the Ajka waste disposal site on
public roads even though rail transportation capacity was also available can also be contested.
This has resulted in damages done to residential buildings alongside the roads, to the roads
themselves, and a significant dust and sound pollution accompanied by exhaust emissions, all
of which would not have happened, had the railroad been used.
Following the disaster, the Central Agricultural Office prohibited the consumption of
locally produced vegetables and fruits. Back then, this measure may have been justifiable for
safety reasons and for lack of more detailed information. At the same time, the prohibitions
on part the fodder crops, as well as local meat, milk and egg production need to be revised
on a regular basis according to the results of the continuous measurements and examinations
and they ought to be relaxed when necessary.

7.5. Ocial evaluations


(by the authorities, the EU and the WHO)
The Hungarian authorities (the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service, the
Central Agricultural Office, the Environmental Protection Inspectorate, Disaster Management) considered the efforts done to protect the population and the environment successful
in their statements, despite the substantiated criticism on the part of NGOs. This event also
supported the argument that in similar catastrophes the direct damage control, the damage
relief and the settling of compensation cases are all fostered by continuous control by society,
as well as the intensive dialogue among governmental and municipal authorities and NGOs.
The WHO team of experts evaluated damage control as effective mainly in terms of the
mitigation of the longer term environmental impacts and preventing the spread of pollution to
more distant water flows. The team of experts made noteworthy suggestions towards lowering
the long-term environmental risks of the red mud reservoir. In addition, WHO recommended
urgently carrying out an examination of the constituents of the sludge left in the reservoir and
for assessing future risks, the organization considered it especially advisable to analyse the
geohydrologic layer structure underneath the reservoir(s).
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Similar to the WHO-experts, the EU-experts drew attention to the need for further measurements and analyses, indispensable for carrying out long-term measures. In their report they
stated that drinking water quality is excellent, safe for human consumption. EU Experts called
on Hungarian authorities to do everything in their power to prevent the contaminated alkaline
water still seeping out of the reservoirs in large quantities from getting into the fresh waters.

7.6. Further necessary measures


7.6.1. Biomonitoring of the population
As the WHO reports also pointed out, monitoring the health status of residents moving
back into the area, as well as of those participating in the relief work will need to be continued in the future. The organization recommended the assessment of possible mid- and
long-term health effects as well, that might arise from direct contact with the sludge, from the
potential contamination of locally produced food items and the drinking water. WHO found
it necessary to create the local infrastructure for the targeted and regular screening of general
health status, for reporting unexpected symptoms and their check-up, with special attention
to the most sensitive groups of the population (in the meanwhile the government carried this
out by establishing a screening and data collecting station). They suggested that the analytical
capacity and the technical background of NTSZ be improved, so that in similar situations
it can react more effectively.
It makes analysis related to volatile dust particulates more difficult that there is no benchmark to compare the measured values to. There are only yearly and workplace related (8-hour)
limit valuesmeasurements typically approximate one thousandth of the latter value. Meanwhile, weekly patient turnover data is being collected from the family doctors of the region (in
19 districts). In comparison with the data from two weeks prior to the accident, an increase
was experienced mostly in the frequency of complaints related to the respiratory system and
the eye and mucous tissue, as well as a significant surge in the number of bronchitis cases.

7.6.2. Further necessary monitoring: water, dust, soil, groundwater


Within the air pollution measurements, emphasis should be placed on measuring volatile dust
concentration and each more significant increase in pollution level has to be assessed, while the
cause of the increase shall be eliminated. Further on, it is necessary to continuously measure
the chemical composition of the soil, the groundwater, the wells and the surface waters. Test
points need to be created in the centre of each built-up area and near the properties destroyed
by the sludge spill. (It is worth noting here, that one of the two mobile air pollution measuring stations operating in Derecske was taken from Miskolc, thus significantly reducing the
measuring capacity in a city with one of the worst air quality levels in the country.)
The ecotoxicological analysis of the spilled red mud has to be carried out by all means.
Data available from previous times was collected when aluminium oxide was still exclusively
produced in Hungary from domestic bauxite of known composition. The composition of the
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present, partly imported raw material is however unknown. All what is clear is that half of the
bauxite processed at Ajka is of domestic origin, the other half coming from Bosnia.
In the damaged agricultural areas there would be a need for a more detailed heavy metal
analysis: to reveal in part the ecotoxicological, in part the biological effects of the contamination
(presumably, the alkaline liquid destroyed a large portion of the organisms living in the soil).
An analysis conducted at the request of Benedek Jvor, the chair of the green committee
in Parliament by the MTA TAKI Ecotoxicological Research Group in January 2011 repeatedly indicated high mercury and arsenic content. In addition it proved, thet concentration data
merely with reference to individual contaminants are not sufficiently informative. Ecotoxicological tests conducted with the indicator species (Daphnia magna) have demonstrated that
the complex pollution has an impact on living organisms (as measured by the mortality rate)
which is significantly higher than originally expected.1 Water analysis seems to constitute
a task that is even more complex, among other things because besides the aforementioned
toxic metals, the effect of the acids and gypsum used for neutralization, as well as the organic
micro contaminants of the sedimentation need to be assessed (and in spring, as the ground
thaws out, further contaminants can be expected to leach in). On top of all, the flood gushing
through the built-in areas carried away huge amounts of pollutants of unknown composition
(the contents of toilets and septic tanks, plant protection products, paints, used oil, etc.), thus
the emergence of compounds of these can also be expected.

7.7. Risks of the continued operation


The continued operation of the Ajka plant and the red mud reservoirs also carries environmental risks. The factory switches over to the dry deposition technology as of the beginning
of March, nevertheless for a longer interim period they will mix gypsum to the deposited
sludge in order to condense it. Th is solution has not yet been used anywhere; its environmental impacts are unknown. The plan is to deposit the sludge cakes in Basin 10, but until
its refill reaches the proper level, the dam shared by Basins 9 and 10 will not be supported
from the Basin 10 side, which may result in its rupture. In Basins 9 and 10/A there is a certain
amount of diluted slurry at present, too, and contaminated liquid seeps through the dams into
the environment. The slurry wall surrounding the dams makes it harder for the leachate to get
into the groundwater, at the same time it might contribute to a waterlogged condition in the
footing of the dams some other parts, too. Gallium extraction remains to be associated with
significant mercury contamination.
However, the main risk is represented by the fact that as long as the licensing and
inspection practices of the authorities concerned do not change (we pointed out their faults
in great detail above), there is no institutional guarantee that technical or technological
shortcomings potentially leading to further accidents will be revealed in time and the
1

How come there is mercury in the Torna creek?


http://lehetmas.hu/sajtokozlemenyek/11325/hogy-kerul-higany-a-torna-patakba/

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necessary precautionary steps can be taken. As we have seen, in the reopening of the factory
and during its operation, concerns related to keeping the market share and saving jobs had
priority over environmental considerations, and it is not unlikely that this remains the case in
the future as well.

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Vegetation damaged in the spill


needs to be replaced as well

8. Conclusion
The Kolontr red mud disaster was the greatest environmental crisis ever of the Central and
Eastern European region. It was an accident that in terms of the presence of large amounts of
accumulated contaminants often without a clearly identifiable owner, deficient regulations and
insufficient control on the part of the authorities and civil society, could easily happen again in
any of the countries of the region. This justified the preparation of an exhaustive report that
would retrace the recent history of the company involved in the accident, MAL Co. Ltd. and
the Hungarian aluminium industry, the process of privatization, the reasons for the accumulation of waste products like slurry and tailings, the technologies widely used for their treatment,
would introduce the legal context, the practice of the authorities and all relevant factors which
might help to understand events, draw the conclusions and identify the steps that can reduce the
occurrence of similar accidents in the future.
The Baia Mare cyanide pollution in 2000 was the only environmental disaster of comparable dimensions in the region. At that time, it was the EU that provided assistance in collecting accurate information, clarifying the consequences, in damage control and the revision
of regulations. That incident has exerted a strong influence on the development of European
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environmental law, not in the least owing to the work done be the Baia Mare Task Force and
the detailed and thorough documentation they prepared. Since the present case and objectives
are of a similar nature, we thought it wise to follow the example set by the Task Force in preparing our study. Thus we set out to present how the differences in the legislation of Member
States and the EU, the difficulties of applying the relevant regulations, and deficiencies in the
legal framework and the work of authorities can lead to the similar accidents and what tasks
the legislators should derive from the lessons of the recent disaster.
We think that most of the added value of the present report owes to the high level of
uncertainty observed in the public opinion and at the political level regarding the disaster.
Thus, there is need for a comprehensive study that will give an accurate image of the causes
and extent of the pollution, the consequences to be reckoned with, and the legal, institutional,
technological and financial conditions required to be met for damage limitation and prevention. As the manuscript of our report is being finalised, six months after the disaster, it is
clear that neither the causes nor the environmental and health effects or the liability issues
have been presented to the wider public in a lucid manner. No reliable information is available on establishments posing similar environmental risk; nobody knows if prevention and
the remediation of damages should be the task of the state or the owners, and it is not clear
which authorities should be inspecting slurry and tailings reservoirs. It is furthermore not
widely known what existing technology should be used for neutralising industrial hazardous
waste or its utilisation. These dilemmas are clearly explained by the study we aimed to prepare
with investigative thoroughness, with references made to the relevant documents and with
contributions by experts.
The most important finding of the report is thatthough relevant Hungarian regulation
in force still differs significantly from EU legislationthis accident would not have happened in
this form and with such a severe impact, had all the authorities involved as well as the company
adhered to existing regulations and carried out the tasks derived from the latter in the course
of authorising and monitoring the reservoir at Ajka. The factors leading to the gravest results
(excessive water content and alkalinity of the slurry in the reservoir, the sinking of the dam of
the reservoir) can be traced back to omissions and faults in interpreting and applying the law
which could, without a doubt, have been prevented. At the same time, politics also contributed
to preparing the disaster by failing to include environmental guarantees in the privatization
contracts, sabotaging the decision taken one and a half decades ago to work out policies of
environmental liability insurance and by tolerating lax behaviour on the part of the authorities.
We put priority on elucidating the European dimensions of the case. We have presented
how EU legislation deals with structures like red mud reservoirs, whether Hungarian environmental, construction and mining regulations comply in this respect with European rules
(where is further need for legal harmonization) to what extent is the European legal framework
suitable for managing environmental risk of such an order of magnitude, and where the law
needs to be changed (both domestically and in the EU) to prevent disasters like the one in
Kolontr and to alleviate efficient remediation should they nevertheless occur. We concluded
that the Community acquis contains, for the most part, the provisions necessary for prevention, while the EU should exercise firmer behaviour regarding the implementation of the
regulations concerned, as well as in controlling the proper management of the institutional
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framework overseeing and enforcing regulations. Finally, the regulatory and financial background (including financial resources) for the rectification of the damage wrought should be
established at the European level in the nearest future.
The report was edited by LMPs Sustainable Development Cabinet. Experts from Hungarian scientific institutions and NGOs who played a definitive part in investigating the
accident (e.g. Greenpeace, Clean Air Action Group) as well as scholars of environmental
law contributed to writing individual chapters. We organised two specialised conferences for
initiating dialog among conflicting points of view and to find the consensus hoped for. We
conducted several field trips at the disaster site, talked to the representatives of the residents of
the affected areas, to the staff of national parks, officials of disaster management and the authorities concerned. All of this contributed to the preparation of a detailed document complete
with quotations and references, verified several times scientifically, that experts, researchers,
students and interested laymen can use as a reliable work of reference in the future both in
Hungary and in other Member States. Finally, the report wishes to provide opportunities for
decision makers to derive legislative and other tasks from the lessons of the disaster.

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Published in 200 copies.


Published by the Greens / European Free Alliance Parliamentary Group
in the European Parliament and LMP - Politics Can Be Different
Editor in Chief: Benedek Jvor
info@lehetmas.hu,

www.lehetmas.hu

Printing: Cypress Ltd.


Budapest, March 2011