Amanda Rivkin

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.

AJKA, HUNGARY.  The rupture in the toxic red alumina sludge reservoir as seen from the top of a remaining piece of the reservoir's wall at the MAL plant on November 22, 2010, that sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge pouring into the surrounding countryside, several villages including Kolontar and Devecser and resulted in the death of ten individuals, including a 14 months old baby, injured hundreds and left several families homeless.
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  Clean up crews work to hose down contaminated trees in the castle park that schoolchildren used to play in on November 20, 2010 in the aftermath of a toxic industrial accident on October 4, 2010 that resulted from a rupture in a reservoir containing toxic alumina sludge in nearby Ajka, Hungary that sent hazardous red sludge gushing through Devecser and several surrounding towns, killing ten, injuring hundreds and leaving several families homeless.
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  Geza Csenki, 63, outside the entrance of his ruined and uninhabitable home on November 25, 2010, less than seven weeks after an industrial accident at the MAL plant in nearby Ajka, Hungary sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gushing through Devecser and several surrounding villages, killing ten, injuring hundreds and leaving several families homeless.  Csenki's efforts to organize demonstrations on behalf of the survivors have been met with an extraordinary response by the authorities who have gone to great lengths to accommodate Csenki and the complaints he has brought forward on behalf of villagers in an effort to avoid official embarrassment.
     
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  A trail of towels still greets worshippers to the altar at the church during Sunday mass on November 21, 2010, less than two months after an industrial accident in nearby Ajka, Hungary sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gusing through Devecser and several surrounding villages, killing ten, injuring hundreds and leaving several families homeless.
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  The feet of Laszlo Markos, 61, who was severely burned in an industrial accident resulting from a collapsed reservoir wall that sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gushing through his home, in his makeshift residence where he lives with his wife on November 23, 2010.  The elderly are particularly susceptible to the protracted pain of the burns due to the fact that many were unable to escape fast enough when the accident occurred and spent an hour or more wading in the toxic sludge.
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  Jozsef Szalai with the single rose plant salvaged from the garden of his family home on November 20, 2010 in a ruined section of Devecser in the aftermath of an industrial accident on October 4, 2010 that resulted from a rupture in a reservoir containing toxic alumina sludge in nearby Ajka, Hungary that sent hazardous red sludge gushing through Devecser and several surrounding towns.  Unlike other effected families, the Szalai family hopes to remain in their home as long as possible despite the devastation around them.
     
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  (Far right) Ilona Autal, 40, rubs cream on the legs of her son, (left) Peter Bogdan, 12, as her other children, (on sofa) Miriam Melitta Bogdan, 3, and (center) Renato Achilles Bogdan, 5, wake up and watch television  before school in their living room on November 25, 2010.  Peter was walking home when an industrial reservoir containing toxic red alumina sludge broke at the MAL plant in nearby Ajka, Hungary and sent a torrent of the hazardous material gushing through the streets of Devecser and consequently has burns on his legs.
  
AJKA TOSOKBEREND, HUNGARY.  Dora Jazmin Juhasz, 3, watches television as her father, Zoltan Juhasz, 33, sleeps in their temporary home on November 23, 2010; Dora's fourteen month old younger sister, Angyalka, was the youngest victim of an industrial accident at the MAL plant in nearby Ajka, Hungary on October 4, 2010 which sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gushing through their previous home in Devecser, Hungary.  Zoltan has burns that cover 67% of his body due to the accident and despite nearly drowning in the sludge save for a single arm, Dora survived without injury.
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  The younger Gyozo Bakonyi enters his parents home in an otherwise abandoned and condemned section of Devecser on November 21, 2010, after an industrial accident sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gushing through Devecser and several nearby villages, killing ten, destroying homes, leaving several families homeless and severely injuring hundreds on October 4, 2010.  Bakonyi survived the accident only to be injured during the clean up the day after; the red marks on the house indicate the height of the sludge at the time of the accident.
     
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  A young girl looks on as volunteers serve free lunch to residents of Devecser in a makeshift soup kitchen in a Hungarian military tent pitched beside the Geza Gardonyi Primary School on November 24, 2010, many of whom were left homeless and bereft of the only home they had and knew due to an industrial accident at the MAL plant in nearby Ajka, Hungary that sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gushing through the village and several surrounding villages, injuring hundreds, leaving several families homeless and killing ten.
  
KOLONTAR, HUNGARY.  Laszlo Retnager, 63, with his dog in the yard of his home on November 25, 2010 after visiting with volunteer psychologists from the organizations Helperek who have come to Kolontar in the aftermath of an industrial accident at the MAL plant in nearby Ajka, Hungary on October 4, 2010 that sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gushing through a section of Kolontar and several surrounding villages, killing ten, injuring hundreds, and leaving several families homeless.  While many locals were initially resistant to their assistance given a deep aversion to a profession many thought was just to assist crazy people, many locals have warmed to their presence and welcome their guidance in a difficult time.
  
ON THE M8 HIGHWAY BETWEEN AJKA TOSOKBEREND AND KOLONTAR, HUNGARY.  A floodlight captures what is likely illegal toxic dumping into the river alongside the M8 highway on November 25, 2010 in the aftermath of an industrial accident in Ajka, Hungary that sent a torrent of toxic red alumina sludge gushing into villages and the surrounding countryside.  While nobody would disclose what they were doing, they allowed for photos on the grounds that a foreign photographer could not ask questions.
     
  
AJKA, HUNGARY.  Disaster management workers inspect the cracks in the wall of the toxic red alumina sludge reservoir at the MAL plant on November 22, 2010, seven weeks after a rupture caused a torrent of the hazardous material to pour into the surrounding countryside and into several villages including Kolontar and Devecser, Hungary, killing ten, including a 14 month old baby, injuring hundreds and leaving several families homeless.
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  Iren Istvanne Nemeth, 71, with her daughter, Erzebet Nemeth, 50, on the main street after purchasing sleeping pills at the pharmacy on November 22, 2010, a few days after being released from the hospital and the same day she began to move into the homeless shelter established by the church,
  
DEVECSER, HUNGARY.  (L-r) Zsuzsa Riba, Gyorgy Janos Farkas, and Zsuzsa's son, Martin Riba, 6, return to the
     
  
KOLONTAR, HUNGARY.  Melinda Lehmann, 28, sits in her car outside her family's bar on November 22, 2010.  An industrial accident in nearby Ajka, Hungary destroyed her family's home on October 4, 2010 when a flood of toxic red alumina sludge came gushing through her village, the closest to a collapsed reservoir wall that caused the accident, Hungary's worst ecological disaster.