Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Toxic sludge is not good for you

Overnight, the collapse of a tailings dam in Hungary led to 600 - 700,000 cubic metres of toxic sludge from a mineral processing plant flooding local villages and spilling into a river. In addition to the force of the flood, it is also highly alkaline; it has already killed four people and injured over a hundred more, and the latter is likely to rise as chemical burns may take days to emerge. Its effects on the local environment are equally devastating, killing fish and contaminating land and waterways with heavy metals.

Its a signal warning of the dangers of the mining and minerals industry. These leaks happen a couple of times a year (list here), often with devastating results. Floods are bad enough; floods of toxic sludge which burn and poison and leave the land contaminated are another thing entirely.

If Gerry Brownlee had has his way, our national parks could have been exposed to this sort of risk (primarily from gold cyanidation and acid drainage). Fortunately, we stopped him. We dodged a bullet there, and we should be very glad of it.