Central/Eastern Europe: Hungary Industrial Accident
For sixty-three year old Geza Csenki or seventy-one year old Iren Istvanne Nemeth, living in the small village of Devecser in western Hungary, October 4, 2010 was the day the world folded. A torrent of toxic red sludge from a nearby industrial plant owned by MAL Zrt (Magyar Alumínium Termelő és Kereskedelmi) burst and flooded the town. Ten people died, including a 14-month old baby and hundreds were hurt and hospitalized. Csenki lost his home, as did Istvanne Nemeth along with her son Istvan, 52.
The accident is part of a larger, looming problem concerning the state of post-Soviet industries in the region. Privatization during the early 1990s forced the regulatory burden from the state onto the private sector. So for the residents of Devecser and Ajka, unfulfilled promises to revise industrial inspection codes in the future bring little comfort. Since the accident occurred during the middle of the day, it was mainly the shut-in elderly and those who lacked upstairs floors who had nowhere they could run to safety. The elderly are the unlikely to have insurance in post-communist countries since it was something unheard of under the previous regime when the state allegedly took care of all its citizens.
Zoltan Bakonyi, the largest shareholder of MAL Zrt, was briefly arrested. He appeared on television to say the aluminum sludge might not be so harmful after all. His father Arpad Bakonyi was a key player in the privatization of the Hungarian aluminum industry. “How can they say this?” asked Istvanne Nemeth, 71, as she removed her shoes and socks and showed off burns and blisters that she said covered half of her body.