News of the WeekEnvironment

After Red Mud Flood, Scientists Try to Halt Wave of Fear and Rumors

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Science  22 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6003, pp. 432-433
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6003.432

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Two weeks after caustic sludge—a byproduct of the aluminum industry whose pH can reach a dizzying 13—broke through a reservoir near Kolontár, Hungary, scientists say its environmental impact may be less severe than widely broadcast images suggested at first. They don't want to diminish the human tragedy: Nine people have died and more than 100 have been injured; many suffered burnlike wounds from the sludge's alkalinity. But much of the sludge can be removed physically and taken back to one of the company's intact reservoirs; the remainder can be neutralized with mild acids. Task force members predict only minimal effects on the ecology of the Danube and don't think drinking water is at risk.