Monday, 11 October 2010


Hard to get away from news of the toxic sludge spill in Hungary. Arrest made. Whether the director of the company is the guilty man or the scapegoat remains to be seen.

In many ways this is a throwback to the pre-1989 days, when it was easier to get away with laxness and corruption because there was less direct responsibility. All the old Soviet bloc countries were polluted to an extent not tolerated in Western Europe.

In other ways it is very much of today, an oddly symbolic terror at a time when laxness and corruption haven't gone away but find other channels to operate in and are not to be explained by the depredations of a single, monolithic party.

It is horrible and sad. I haven't been to Hungary this year and will probably not go, since the government withdrew the funding for the conference I was due to appear at. Next year I must go again. There is something in the temper of the place at the moment that I find difficult, but dear friends are dear friends, the city is the city, and the temper might be no more than a passing mood at a hard time. The consolations of history are never altogether consoling.


Poet in Residence said...

That "the clean-up operation could be a long and arduous job" may yet prove to be one of the understatements of the year. The reason I say this is that the whole dam construction appears to be on the verge of collapse, there are major cracks appearing everywhere.
I think I remember reading that the plant and presumably its dam was built around 1963. The first red earth was mined on site 1943. The authorities are building earthen barricades to protect other potentially vulnerable villages should the dam burst.
The danger from the red dust is now present, some of it flying as far away as 70kms, it is said by local people interviewed on the radio to be carcinogenic.
Whatever the truth, you wouldn't want to inhale it. The numbers, as I've heard them recently here in Vienna (we're about 80kms from Hungary and getting regular reports), is presently 7 dead and 1 missing.

Poet in Residence said...

This morning it is confirmed that there are now 8 dead.
The latest plan is to drain some of the remaining sludge (and more than 90% of it is still on site) from one storage lake to the other to equalize the pressure. If this is a good tactic remains to be seen. The cracks have not widened overnight, people are being told via news bulletins.
There is still much concern about the toxic dust.

George S said...

I am following the news, Gwilym. Do you think the arrest of the director was scapegoating? The works was built a long time before him, in the old regime.

Is this your field or special interest? It is something you seem quite expert on.

Poet in Residence said...

George, I think the new Hungarian government, like all new governments, wants to be seen to be doing something and so they have arrested the director. And they are probably right to do this for it a google date-stamped photo claims to show the dam already leaking toxic sludge as early as June*. Naturally there's a great deal of interest here about the political situation in Hungary. There's a 'special' on TV tomorrow which I will catch if I get the chance.
*see WWF or Greenpeace (icons at bottom right of PiR). I joined WWF recently in memory of my sister who loved to go walking in the English Lake District and who died in her fifties of what is euphemistically called "a long illness".

Poet in Residence said...

I think it behoves us all, especially with regard to our environment, the flora and fauna, the drinking water and the food we eat, to become our own experts because how otherwise are we to distinguish fact from fiction in an age when so much is hidden from us and we are in danger of being strait-jacketed into an Orwellian lunatic asylum of some sort.
ps- On Sunday the far right (FPÖ) polled 27.1% in Vienna's Mayoral Elections, the Socialists won with a reduced majority and so will join forces in a coalition with either the Greens or the Conservatives (ÖVP).

Poet in Residence said...

George, it's my WWF Link you want ( which you can get by clicking on the the icon on PiR (low down the page on the right). It'll bring up the Hungarian incident and some photos on the 3 main news stories on the home page.
When I looked there were 14 comments, one person saying it had been leaking since October 2008. Some of the comments, two I think, in Hungarian.

Poet in Residence said...

On 13/10 CNN reports:
1) judge orders release of the alu-plant director due to lack of evidence
2) death toll now up to 9
3) the alu-plant is to resume production 'in a few weeks'