Two months after the red-mud catastrophe

Gruiz, Katalin

Two months have passed from the catastrophic red mud spill event causing the death of 10 people, destroying the house, living environment, fortune of several hundred people.

As a result of a national alliance there is visible progress in the works done in the area with the involvement of equipment and experts, but the size of the impacted area and the volume of the outstanding works is still astonishing.

What has been done so far?

1. The large opening created by the breach of the dyke has been closed by a several meters high wall. The wall was constructed from concrete-like pieces of the former broken dyke given that there was no other construction material available for that purpose.

The new wall forms a barrier in front of the water flowing out from the pond thus hindering any likely outwards movement of the residual pudding-like mud from the pond. The water pressed out from the red mud slurry is discharged from the pond under controlled conditions via overflow pipes and the suspended solids taken by the water get stepwise removed via a multi-stage settling system.

The dyke construction works are personally supervised by Dr. István Csonky, director of the Central-Transdanubian Environment and Water Direction.

2. The alkaline slurry leaving the red mud pond gets settled through a multistage, cascade type settling system resulting separation of the suspended solids.  The settling ponds are provided with permeable barriers that filter the red mud. The filtered, clear water is not yet neutralised at this stage, its pH still exceeds 12. This alkaline water is channelled in ditches around the red mud storage pond and before discharge into the Torna creek it is neutralised. Several control points were placed along the Torna–Marcal–Rába–Mosoni-Duna water system. László Kovács, leader of the Central-Transdanubian Water and Environmental Direction in Veszprém is responsible for directing the above water system and adjusting the water pH along this section.

3. Most part of the red sludge has been removed from Kolontár and Devecser villages. At present the thick mud layer is being excavated from the botanical garden in Devecser. The mud layer is excavated by earthworks equipment together with several centimetres of the upper soil layers. The red mud layer removed from the flooded agricultural areas and gardens is stored temporarily  besides the western wall of the 10th storage cell within the area bordered by the underground non-permeable barrier ( thus the leachate cannot get outside the barrier). Meanwhile the preliminary works for delineating the footprint and designing the final red mud storage facility have started.

4. The houses located in the most affected streets of Kolontár have been demolished. There are only two houses left for clarification of the ownership. The soil in the area of the demolished houses has been cleaned. There is no red mud visible in this area.

5. The Research Institute for Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry of the Hungarian Academy of Science together with the Department of Biotechnology and Food Sciences of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics are undertaking extensive soil sampling to conduct chemical, biological and eco-toxicological tests in order to see how and in what amount does the red mud influence the soil structure, its living organisms and fertility. The investigations will establish what plant types can be cultivated in red mud loaded soils. Meanwhile eco-toxicity tests are being done to estimate any likely eco-toxicity effects and the possibility of their compensation.