A toxic mud spill in Hungary leaves hundreds injured, homeless, and angry

October 22, 2010 — by Nandini Ruparel

Toxic mud slid down into Hungary, invading three villages and killing nine people. Sounds like a nightmare that Prime Minister Viktor Obran might have had after eating too much spicy food before bed.

Unfortunately, that may be only a dream. The real nightmare began when a reservoir in Hungary broke Oct. 5, flooding the surrounding area and injuring 100 people. The mud spilling out of the reservoir was mildly radioactive and caused burns upon contact. The managing director of Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, which is the corporation responsible for the toxic mud slide, has been taken into custody and is scheduled to appear in court.

Although the company responsible has claimed to have no responsibility in the matter, aerial pictures taken of the site days earlier show a small leak that had gone unfixed until the dam broke.

Sound familiar? Oh yes, British Petroleum also claimed no responsibility when the oil spill occurred earlier this year. This seems to be a trend with companies—cause environmental damage and then blame “faulty parts.”

If Hungary and rest of the world want to stop catastrophes like these from happening, there should be a global set of rules for companies that deal with materials that could be potentially dangerous. For example, if a company deals with nuclear materials, they should be closely monitored. This is the only way to prevent such incidents. Although this approach costs money, the investment would pay off in the long run—the money that is spent on infrastructure repairs will be saved time and time again.

Also, there should be a legal proceeding specifically for such acts. Many companies have evaded the responsibility of their actions and irresponsibility regarding safety measures. Just because companies do not profit from fixing something immediately does not mean that they should not do it at all.

In fact, companies should realize that by overlooking safety measures, they will be hurt financially in the long run. For example, the company at fault will not only have to pay retribution for the cleanup but also suffer a loss in profits from the bad press coming from the scandal. These two things could be avoided by simply fixing the problem when it occurs rather than after it turns into a catastrophe.

Instituting regulations against major companies is not difficult, as shown by HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), which was established by the government for food safety in 1972, after contamination was found in Pillsbury food items. Nowadays, the HACCP regulations, which include “Hazard Analysis” and “Establish corrective actions” are used among all food industries. Monitoring companies that have potential to be hazardous should be approached in the same way. Both industries are potential dangers to the public safety and health—if one is regulated, why not the other?

Many companies, including BP and the Hungarian company in question, know that there are problems with their facilities and within the company. However, these corporations have been lured into a false sense of security from previously avoided scandals. They must realize, though, that each time they refuse to fix a problem, the risk of something catastrophic just increases. The only way to stop this is to institute preventative action against these companies.

If the companies would regulate themselves, then we would not have this problem. However, this approach is clearly not working. The only way to ensure the maximum public health and safety around the world is to create regulations that more effectively prevent such tragedies from happening again.

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