Pest county prefect Richárd Tornai told InfoRadio on Monday that the government would remove some 17o tons of toxic waste illegally stored in unsafe conditions in Budapest’s 9th District by the end of May. The remaining 2500 tons of waste are to be removed in the weeks and months to follow.
On April 9th Hungarian news site 444.hu broke the story that hundreds of barrels of toxic waste were being unlawfully stored in unsafe conditions on the grounds of a bankrupt chemical company in Budapest’s 9th district. 444.hu journalists accompanied Gergely Simon of Greenpeace on a walking tour of the facility. Photographs reveal hundreds of metal barrels and plastic containers of toxic waste stored in unsafe conditions, many of them uncovered, corroded or leaking. A number of barrels appear to have burst, discharging their contents onto the bare ground.
Unlawfully stored on uncovered ground, the toxic waste continues to contaminate groundwater already cleaned up once at a cost to European taxpayers of HUF 1.4 billion.
The property, which is near Kispest and Pesterzsébet, belongs to Budapesti Vegyiművek (Budapest Chemical Works), a 130-year-old company that went bankrupt in 2008. 444.hu reports that the company responsible for liquidating the firm’s assets has “helplessly been sitting on a time bomb.”
Attila Varjú, a representative of the company responsible for liquidating the company, says despite numerous court orders the company cannot pay its fines, let alone cover the cost of transporting the barrels to facilities.
Varjú thinks there would have been two ways to deal with the problem. Either the government funds the clean-up at a cost of several billion forints or a party wishing to purchase the property should pay to clean it up. Unfortunately, the government will not allow the property to be sold given the current hazardous conditions.
Simon, a chemist working with Greenpeace Hungary, has been able to identify some of the chemicals stored at the site, including phosphorus oxychloride, benzo-trifluorid, isopropyl, aminobenzotrifluoride, 4-Chloro-dinitrobenzoic acid and ammonia gas.
Needless to say, the site is in such deplorable condition that in the event of fire or explosion, people living in the surrounding area would be exposed to all kinds of health risks.
Shortly after 444.hu published its piece, the Hungarian government jumped into action . . . by holding a meeting!
Ferencváros mayor János Bácskai, a state secretary for the Ministry of Rural Development, a representative of the Ministry of National Development, local and parliamentary representatives of the surrounding districts, the mayor of Kispest, the deputy mayor of Pesterzsébet, the national government’s Budapest representative, representatives of the national emergency response service, the Pest county emergency response and environmental protection service chief and the Budapest Vegyiművek liquidator took part.
444.hu reported that the participants established two things: the situation isn’t really that bad, but they nevertheless hoped the national government would arrange for the hazardous materials to be safely removed.
Following the meeting, Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár reportedly ordered an immediate on-site inspection and the removal of the most dangerous toxic wastes. Hirs24.hu reports that the government awarded a no-bid contract to remove the toxic waste to a company which then passed off the job to a subcontractor.
On Monday Inforadio reported that the total projected cost of removing an estimated 2700 tons of toxic waste to Hungarian taxpayers is HUF 1.1 billion.
A single truckload of toxic waste was removed on Thursday of last week. Supposedly, no work was performed over the three-day weekend out of respect for the May 1st holiday weekend.
The process of cleaning up the site is expected to take some 14 years.
So who’s responsible for this?
The hazardous conditions at the Budapesti Vegyiművek’s toxic dump on Illatos Street are the result of numerous failures. Clearly, the former directors of Budapesti Vegyiművek are primarily to blame for failing to properly dispose of toxic chemicals.
The government has known about the situation for some time. In fact, in 2005 it managed to spend HUF 1.4 billion of EU funds cleaning the groundwater. The company responsible for the project, Hídépítő Zrt., cleaned the groundwater but neglected to eliminate the source of the contamination.
It goes without saying that the 9th district (and surrounding districts) should have pressured the national government, the regulatory agencies, the environmental protection agency and the national emergency services to remove the toxic chemicals as soon as possible.
A regulatory failure is also in play. Had Hungary’s environmental protection authorities properly appraised the government of the situation, it might have used EU monies from the previous (2007-2013) funding cycle to start work on clearing out the site. Then again, there are limits to the amount of EU funds that can be embezzled in the case of cleaning up a toxic waste dump site.
Unknown at this time is the extent to which this pressing problem may have “slipped through the cracks” as a result of the dismantling of Hungary’s environmental protection authority under the second Orbán government.
In 2010 heavy rain caused a toxic red sludge reservoir to burst its levy, inundating several villages in the vicinity of Ajka. The disaster resulted in the deaths of several individuals and cost billions to clean up. Once again Hungarian authorities seem incapable of learning from past mistakes.
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