Francine Cousteau, Ambassadress for the Danube Delta, calls for countries to take responsibility to prevent toxic mud

11 October 2010

Since October 4, Hungary has suffered from an unprecedented environmental catastrophe: a reservoir belonging to Magyar Aluminum (MAL), ruptured, for unknown reasons, and poured a mini-tsunami of more than 1.1 million cubic meters of red sludge full of heavy metals and acids into the Raab River, a tributary of the Danube. The caustic mud devastated everything in its path, killed half-a-dozen people and destroyed the fauna and flora in its way.

Since October 10, water samples have shown that the pollution has reached the Danube. The flow of the sludge could ravage the entire ecosystem—plants and animals. Days after this spill, while Hungary fears a second flood of toxic mud, the retaining walls of the reservoir are showing major cracks.

This sludge is part of the wastes inherent in the production of aluminum: for every ton of aluminum, three tons of red mud are produced. This mud is made up of iron, aluminum oxide and lead, among other things. According to initial reports, the reservoir ruptured because it was filled beyond capacity with waste. For its part, the company states that it abided by all safety measures. But now that Europe’s great river, the Danube, has been affected, the problem is an international one: Romania will inherit the catastrophe and, ultimately, it is in the delta that the deadly mud, however diluted, will end up.

As President of the Cousteau Society and Equipe Cousteau and ambassadress for the Danube Delta, I call for responsibility on the part of the countries that border the Danube to create a common authority to monitor and oversee installations that pose such risks and to adopt rigorous common measures to manage the aquatic environment in order to protect against such risks. Moreover, I demand that a legal system be quickly put in place, which will apply to all 18 countries that border the Danube, as well as a Permanent International Court of the Environment where polluters will be judged.

In 2010, Europe can no longer tolerate an “every man for himself” approach to water management. In cooperation with scientists from the region, Francine Cousteau is organizing an urgent on-site mission to analyze all the consequences of this major environmental catastrophe.