EARTHWORKS

Catastrophic waste spill in Hungary shows risks of irresponsible metals production

October 5, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 5 -- The Danube River, the Marcal, and several other European rivers and the communities and ecosystems that rely upon them are at risk following the collapse of a dam holding back millions of tons of toxic metal-processing wastes at a Hungarian alumina plant. The accident has killed 4 people and injured at least 120 others and has covered an area of about 15 square miles with toxic red sludge.

Here is a statement by Payal Sampat, international campaign director of EARTHWORKS, which works to protect communities and the environment from destructive mining and drilling:

"The catastrophic mine waste breach in Hungary echoes similar incidents in Europe in recent years. In 2000, the Baia Mare gold mine in Romania leaked 100,000 cubic meters of cyanide into the Tisza River, eventually reaching the Danube in Hungary, decimating aquatic life and contaminating drinking water supplies for tens of thousands of people. This was followed by mining-related waste spills in Sweden, Spain and Greece in the last decade.

This spill underscores fundamental safety concerns related to producing and disposing of enormous quantities of contaminated wastes from mines and metals processing facilities. Mines and mining related industries are the largest toxic polluter in the United States according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These types of wastes are typically tainted with heavy metals and chemicals like cyanide and arsenic and are either stored on land in enormous tailings reservoirs, as was the case in Hungary, or dumped directly into natural water bodies, which is the case in many parts of Southeast Asia and is under consideration at mines in Alaska and Canada.

The catastrophe in Hungary also points to ongoing safety concerns at European mines and metals facilities, in particular, risks that would be posed by the proposed Rosia Montana mine and metals processing facilities in Romania. If built, this would be Europe s largest open-cast mine, and technical experts have pointed to the risky location of its tailings disposal facilities in a densely populated region.

Unfortunately, the mining and metals industry as a whole has a long way to go in shoring up the safety of mining and metals processing wastes. Many companies still intentionally dump wastes directly into water bodies like rivers and lakes. For the sake of our drinking water, our environment and our communities, it is time for the mining and metals processing industry to commit to repsonsible waste management as a rule, rather than as an exception."

-- ENDS --


For more information:

Contact:

Payal Sampat, International Director, 202-247-1180 (SF)

Scott Cardiff, International Coordinator, 202-887-1872x202 (DC)

Zsolt Szegvalvi, Greenpeace Hungary, +36205731430

Tagged with: toxics, mining, international

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