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Europe

Hungarian town evacuated on fears of new toxic spill

Authorities in Hungary have evacuated a village close to the site of a toxic spill due to fears over a new toxic waste leak. This comes as the country awaits a team of EU pollution cleanup experts.

A wrecked car, washed away by a flood of toxic mud, stands in a field in the village of Kolontar

Kolontar has been evacuated on fears of a fresh spill

Disaster management officials in Hungary have moved to evacuate the village of Kolontar over concerns it may be exposed to a second toxic waste leak from a nearby red sludge reservoir.

Tibor Dobson, the regional chief of Hungary's disaster relief services, said the damaged section of the reservoir has further weakened and was at risk of complete collapse, threatening the village.

"The evacuation of Kolontar began at six in the morning [4:00 a.m. GMT] after we noticed a weakening in one of the reservoir's dykes," Dobson said. "The decision to evacuate was taken by Interior Minister Sandor Pinter, who took part in the meeting of the local defense committee early Saturday."

Dobson added that the neighboring village of Devecser was also under consideration for evacuation.

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban also said it was likely the alumina sludge reservoir's weakened wall would fall.

"Last night the interior minister informed us that cracks have appeared on the northern wall of the reservoir, whose corner collapsed, which make it likely that the entire wall will collapse," Orban told reporters.

Seven people were killed and more than 150 others injured after the reservoir of a separate alumina plant burst its banks on Monday sending around 700,000 cubic meters (24,720,000 cubic feet) of sludge streaming through nearby villages and fields.

The pollution wiped out all life in the Marcal tributary river and there were fears it could spread down the Danube River, Europe's second largest, and on to Hungary's southern neighbors. Those concerns have since eased, with Hungarian authorities releasing fresh data on Friday showing acidity levels - or pH - of around 8.2 in the Danube, which could be considered "normal," down from a level of around 9 when the sludge reached the river on Thursday.

Environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement on Friday, however, that levels of arsenic and mercury detected in samples of the red sludge taken on Tuesday were still twice that normally found in so-called red mud.

EU answers call for help

Plaster is being poured into the River Marcal to neutralize the polluting elements of its water

Plaster was poured into the Marcal to neutralize the toxic sludge

The disaster prompted Hungary on Friday to ask the European Commission to contribute at least three experts under the bloc's joint civil protection assistance measures to aid authorities with cleanup efforts.

According to a statement on the European Union's website, several EU countries were forthcoming with offers to send disaster management experts. It said Hungary was awaiting the arrival on Saturday morning of a liaison officer from the Monitoring and Information Center of the European Commission who would be responsible for coordinating the experts once they were on the ground in the contaminated areas.

Despite the call for expertise, Orban earlier had insisted that the EU member country does not need financial assistance in removing the red slurry containing poisonous heavy metals from villages, fields and rivers.

Orban conceded that, in some places, such as the hard-hit village of Kolontar, there was little point in removing rubble left behind by the spill as habitation of the areas would no longer be possible.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP/AP/dpa)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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