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Hungary

Fifth victim dies in Hungarian toxic sludge disaster

Reuters

The death toll in Hungary’s toxic sludge disaster rose to five Friday, after one of the people injured died in hospital, according to rescue services. Experts say that contamination levels in the Danube are falling.

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Levels in the river Danube are only slightly higher than usual and not environmentally harmful, an expert from the state-run Environmental Protection Agency told the AFP wire service.

But further upstream where the river Raba meets the Danube officials say that contamination is higher.

Hungary’s government admitted Thursday that the disaster has sparked the country’s worst-ever environmental crisis. Pollution has already wiped out all life in the smaller Marcal tributary.

Environmental campaigners say that they have little confidence in tests conducted by engineers from the factory.

“It’s still dangerous for the environment even if their methods seem efficient,” Greenpeace member Banlage Tomori told RFI, adding that the group prefers to take its own samples for testing.

And the mud was drying Friday, creating toxic dust.

“I’ve no idea how the polluted dust will be dealt with,” Tomori says. “The sun is drying the mud and the slightest breeze carries this dust dozens of kilometres. Breathing in the dust is not at all healthy.”

Protective masks have been distributed but few people are wearing them, RFI’s Heike Schmidt reports.

Wildlife protection group WWF warns of “a string of disasters waiting to happen” along the Danube basin.

Hungary has two other sludge ponds storing highly alkaline red muds from bauxite processing, while Romania’s Tulcea facility, which has experienced leaks in the past, would have “a devastating impact” on the Danube Delta, WWF says.

Serbia, Croatia and Romani are stepping up monitoring because of the risk to drinking water in urban areas.

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