On October 4, nine people were killed and more than 150 injured when 700,000 cubic metres of red toxic sludge burst from the banks of a storage reservoir in the Hungarian village of Kolontar.
The highly caustic sludge – a by-product from the early stage of aluminium production – cascaded into the nearby Danube, Europe’s second longest river.
Now Prof Younger has been drafted in following a call from Government chief scientist Sir John Beddington after Prime Minister David Cameron promised help to his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban.
He will be supported by Newcastle University’s Dr Adam Jarvis and Dr Will Mayes of Hull University who have been awarded a £30,000 urgency grant by the Natural Environment Research Council to study the long term environmental impact of the disaster.
Led by Dr Mayes, the team will travel to Hungary at the end of the month to carry out water and sediment sampling and analyse the levels of pollutants in the sludge-hit environment.
Professor Younger explained: “This spill led to tragic loss of life and affected an area of 40 square kilometres and now the Hungarian people are working hard on the clean up.
“The area is still covered with a blanket of red sludge and you can see the flood lines on the houses where the water reached a height of seven or eight metres, washing everything away in its path.
“One of the greatest concerns now is the 39 million tonnes of red sludge which is still in the reservoir. Cracks are already visible in the dam walls and the region is just about to be hit by the wet season.
"My role – together with colleagues from the British Geological Survey - is to work with the Hungarian experts to advise on how they can prevent a second disaster, ways to combat the effects of the sludge and the long-term implications for the environment and local communities.”
Prof Younger, Director of the university’s new Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, has a long track record in dealing with industrial and mining pollution.
Over the last 20 years his projects have included using horse manure and straw to produce bacteria which helped neutralise pollution in mine water at Quaking Houses in County Durham. He also led a project to combat environmental problems caused by polluted water seeping from abandoned silver and tin mines in the Bolivian Andes – using llama dung. Prof Younger and his colleagues are currently investigating zinc pollution from historic mines in the Nent Valley in Cumbria.
published on: 10th November 2010