Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kolontar toxic red sludge : other ex-Soviet dams are waiting their turn to pollute...

The disastrous breach of the alumina dam at Kolontar, Hungary, prompted me to request a guest post from Paul Glendell, and old friend and colleague from the days of the Campaign Against Sea Dumping, also a noted environmental photographer. Paul writes:

Having travelled around central Europe during the early 1990s, just after the various revolutions, the recent accident in Hungary when a dam wall holding back toxic waste collapsed came as no great surprise to me.

In Slovakia I photographed several similar, although much smaller toxic lakes.  In the east of Slovakia I visited a waste lake from mercury production.  A few miles further  west in Krompachy a  blue cracked semi solid waste lake from copper smelting with the surrounding land inhabited by Roma.  Near Slovakia’s second city Banska Bystrica, below the beautiful ‘folk’ village of Spania Dolina I walked across the solid white waste from what I was told was mixed mineral extraction nearby. This too was held back in a deep valley by a dam.  Further up from the dam the solid white waste became a clear liquid lake. Needless to say there was no evidence of life in the ‘water’.

But by far the biggest waste ‘dump’ I visited was at Ziar Nad Hronom – at what I was informed is / was europe’s largest Aluminium factory, the same as the Hungarian disaster.  The mountains of waste ‘hid’ a lake of almost luminous green liquid that a factory worker told me was highly alkaline. The liquid was slowly seeping into the surrounding fields.  This factory has in fact expanded since 1992 when I visited it but what has happened to decades of industrial waste from a virtually unregulated communist past I have no idea.

I fear there are more accidents to come. I have not seen such waste dumps in the other eastern European countries but I am sure they are there. Slovakia and Hungary are certainly not unique in having this legacy. 

I must end however by saying that, as so few western Europeans visit Slovakia I wouldn’t want to give the impression that the country is a mass of polluted wasteland.  Far from it, it contains some of the most beautiful unpolluted countryside, that is the nearest to wilderness you will find in Europe. 

Paul Glendell 
Slovakia Waste Lakes

Beautiful Slovakia

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