Hungary emergency toxic sludge dam 'almost completed'

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Emergency crews in Hungary have almost completed a new dam to contain further spillage from the reservoir that leaked toxic sludge earlier this month, officials say.

They say final test are being conducted on the emergency barrier.

Meanwhile the Hungarian government is preparing to take over the company at the centre of the disaster.

Eight people have died from the 4 October spill that devastated towns near Ajka in the west of the country.

The new wall, about 1,500m (1,600yd) long and up to 30m wide, is designed to protect villages when the walls of the reservoir give way and spill a second wave of toxic sludge.

The authorities expect the reservoir to collapse in the next few days.

Engineers and relief workers have been racing since the weekend to complete the emergency dam.

EU experts are helping the Hungarians with the barrier, as well as assessing the longer-term impact of the spill on the ground water and the soil.

About 150 people were injured after up to 700,000 cubic metres (24.7m cu ft) of toxic by-product from the production of alumina burst from the storage reservoir last week.

The residue has covered an area of 40 sq km (15.6 sq miles).

State control

The parliament in Budapest passed a bill last Monday paving the way for the state to take over the company at the centre of the disaster, MAL Hungarian Aluminium, until those affected had been compensated and the damage cleaned up.

Image caption,
The government plans to take control of MAL until those affected have been compensated

Prime Minister Viktor Orban blamed negligence for the spill and said the company should bear the costs.

Environment State Secretary Zoltan Illes said the company could face damage claims amounting to 73m euros ($102m; £64m).

The chief executive of the Ajka plant, Zoltan Bakony, was detained for questioning on Monday.

Mr Bakonyi had said last week that the reservoir had been inspected daily and no signs of weakness had been spotted.

The plant, located about 160km (100 miles) from Budapest, produced alumina from bauxite ore. Alumina is used to make aluminium metal as well as advanced ceramics.

The toxic sludge escaped from a breach in the corner of the reservoir, near the plant.

Most of those killed were drowned or swept away in the nearby village of Kolontar as the sludge hit.

All life in the Marcal river, which feeds the Danube, is said to have been extinguished.

The sludge reached the Danube on Thursday, but Hungarian officials said on Friday that the pH level in the river was "normal", easing fears that Europe's second-longest river would be significantly polluted.

Emergency crews have been working to dilute the alkaline content of the spill, adding huge quantities of gypsum and chemical fertilisers to the waters of the Marcal and Raba rivers.