The news about a toxic sludge spill from the aluminum works in the city of Ajka in western Hungary traveled the world. The entire region suddenly turned red from the alkaline mud and the catastrophe, the largest ecological catastrophe in Hungary as the locals claim, has even taken several human lives. The villages affected the most are called Kolontár and Devecser. Thanks to Juraj Sucharda, we have the chance to visit the region once again and think about how ruthless we are towards our environment and how easy it if for normal peaceful lives to turn into pure desperation. We are not here to moralize, as everyone has the right to their opinion or perspective of this catastrophe. We would simply like to draw the attention to the fact that human actions can have devastating consequences and have been the major cause of natural disasters in recent times. Nature is a strong opponent for humans and will certainly not leave our actions go unpunished, the ecological catastrophe in Hungary included. (WoL)
On a calm Monday afternoon, residents of several Hungarian villages in the area around the city called Ajka were interrupted in their everyday activities due to a red toxic sludge leakage from the nearby aluminum works. Specifically, it is the waste that is created by the production of aluminum oxide – a raw material needed for producing aluminum. Visiting the affected villages a week after this ecologic catastrophe resembled a visit to the cinema to see a disaster movie. This time, it was no ‘virtual experience’ but an actual sight at the destructive red ‘layer’ of the earth. Empty buildings, wrecked cars, soldiers, the Red Cross, volunteers….. and people absently starring into the ‘red’ future. The moist and acrid smell affected the lungs and eyes and left dirt under everyone’s fingernails.
The sight at this catastrophe would mentally afflict even the toughest of individuals. The abandoned toys, fallen trees, broken windows, dead animals and red marks almost two meters up on buildings. The desperate attempts of people struggling to gather their belongings from their homes. The thought that they will never go back to their homes is devastating and most people covered their agony in the palms of their hands, standing tired and helpless. We reached one of the houses where an old lady tried to explain what happened with a broken voice, making sure we realize how much she has lost and the effort she put into building her ‘cozy’ home, all gone in a matter of seconds. On a nearby ledge, someone lit candles and in between, placed a ‘red’ cross. They have lost everything… except faith.
“The moist and acrid smell affected the lungs and eyes and left dirt under everyone’s fingernails.”
The residents moved around with mouth covers, rubber gloves and working boots. The soldiers in their alien-like gear were giving direct orders to keep panic at the minimum. Utter silence ruled over the area. There was no longer the need for words.
We stood in front of a house where everyone was trying to get rid of the red sludge piled in the front yard. A woman, owner of the house, starred at the yard in silence and started to realize that LIFE in her house as she knows it may cease to exist. The danger seemed to be gone, but people remained skeptical. They considered this catastrophe as the second Chernobyl. Considering that a large amount of red toxic waste escaped into the environment, the estimates of the leak were terrifying, calculated at roughly 50 tons of arsenic. The water samples in the village of Kolontar showed 0.25 milligrams per liter, a value 25x higher than the tolerance for drinking water.
It’s especially hard to talk about the victims and the wounded. There were over 120 injured and 4 dead. After such a catastrophe, one can only hope these numbers are final. It has no meaning to talk about ones that were affected mentally, since the number would be at least as high as the population of the area. The feelings left with the people not even directly affected are indescribable. The grief and fear of what could come in the future was evident from the eyes of all, involved or not.
“They have lost everything… except faith.”
On the parking lot, near to something that once was a park, soldiers with hoses in their hands were trying to wash off the ‘blood-colored’ stains from the clothes of their colleagues and the rescuers, as well as from the heavy machinery. The red world however cannot be washed off. Everything is now contaminated. Several buildings were taken down and life will not be back any time soon. The lost confidence in safety is now beyond recall.
The weather affected by global warming, caused by humans in many aspects, will keep haunting us year by year. Our lifestyle and our ‘achievements’ of the 21st century prove our guilt and hold us responsible for the climate changes and the condition our planet is in. What will we leave behind for our children to experience? What else will we go through ourselves? When will the next time bombs go off? When will the guilty be held responsible? And if they plead guilty, what good will that do? Not much. The only thing that will remain is the unavoidable emptiness…