Hungary completes sludge wall

Authorities say risk of a second catastrophe averted as protective dam is built around reservoir of toxic waste.

    There are fears that dry weather conditions will cause toxins in the red sludge to be released into the air [Reuters]

    A new relief dam to reinforce a reservoir that poured toxic sludge over the Hungarian countryside earlier this month has been completed, amid fears of a second wave of the red mud.

    "The new system of dykes is complete: there will be no more catastrophes," Tibor Dobson, head of the regional disaster relief services, told local radio.

    Residents of Kolontar, the first village to be hit when 700,000 cubic metres of the caustic liquid burst out of the alumin plant in Ajka, western Hungary, are expected to begin returning to their homes on Friday.

    However, Sandor Pinter, Hungary's interior minister, said the state of alert in the area would remain in place until it was certain that the remaining sludge in the 25-acre storage pool would not leak out.

    "Life won't be returning to normal for a very, very long time," Tamas Toldi, the Devecser Mayor, whose town was one of those swamped by the flood on October 4, said.

    Operations to resume

    Meanwhile, a judge has dismissed accusations of negligence against the head of MAL, the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, the firm that owned the plant.

    Prosecutors could not substatiate claims that Zoltan Bakonyi did not sufficiently prepare emergency warning and rescue plans in case of accidents, Janos Banati, Bakonyi's lawyer, said.

    The decision is likely to anger hundreds of villagers who blame the firm for the nine deaths and 150 injuries caused by the torrent of toxic waste.

    Banati said his client "remains perplexed by what may have caused the collapse of the reservoir" which has left hundreds of people homeless and poisoned waterways.

    The metals plant, which has been taken over by the government, is expected to resume operations on Friday.

    The Hungarian government will freeze the assets of MAL and install its own representative or commissioner at the helm, who will then be responsible for resolving the current catastrophe.

    Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister, has blamed "human negligence" for the spill - which swept over three villages and caused an ecological disaster in a tributary of the Danube River.

    There are concerns over the air quality in the affected areas, with Greenpeace warning that residents could breathe in toxins in the mud if dry weather conditions continue.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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