Five years ago, on 4 October 2010, Hungary was devastated by the greatest industrial disaster in its history after the reservoir dam of the alumina plant at Ajka burst, causing over one million cubic meters of water and toxic sludge to flood lower-lying areas of the nearby settlements of Kolontár, Devecser and Somlóvásárhely, western Hungary. According to official statistics, the catastrophe claimed the lives of ten people; hundreds suffered permanent burns and several people died as a result of caustic effects brought on by lye. The number of houses made uninhabitable exceeded 300. Reparing the damage caused and carrying out the necessary reconstruction works cost the country over 40 billion forints.
Red sludge is a by-product of bauxite mining, created in the course of producing alumina. In a solid state, it does not necessarily count as dangerous residue; however, the excavated bauxite is subjected to a strong alkalising procedure during production, causing large amounts of liquid lye to accomodate on top of the sludge stored in the reservoir.
photos: Péter Kálló/phoo.hu
cover photo: József Tóth/AFP