back to article Danube sludge peril: Brown trouser time or not?

Millions of tonnes of “red sludge” flowing into the Danube: sounds like Hungary's got something of an environmental problem, doesn't it? And indeed they do, but it's a short-term one, not the long-term disaster that the likes of Greenpeace (hey, surprise!) are telling us all it is. It isn't actually “red sludge”, the technical …


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  1. Daniel Evans

    Interesting Article

    Especially on the economics of reprocessing waste - I'm waiting for the day it becomes profitable to start mining landfills, personally!

  2. mafoo


    I heard that they are dumping fertiliser into the river along with clay in an attempt to reduce the pH of the rivers.

    Reminds me of introducing cane toads into australia to stop the beetles eating the sugar crop.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Good stuff

    So basically we need to calm down, ignore the tabloids and hysterical newsheets as usual and simply get on with moping up.

    Sounds likes good advice to me! I shall contemplate your wise words from a comfy seat down at the Red Lion tonight!

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Not yet.

      There IS a need for some expediency right now, but most of it has been properly directed at keeping people out of harm's way, keeping the problem from spreading too much...and with keeping the stuff flowing into the Danube from being too alkaline (one tributary seems to be toast, but the effort on the Danube itself is proceeding; nothing long-term is expected as long as they keep pace). Once the immediate situation is done and dusted, everyone can take a deep breath, go, "Okay, that's over with," and start laying out the plans for dealing with the mud, which doesn't have to proceed so quickly.

  4. John 73

    Resource consumption

    "Which brings us to a point economists keep trying to tell environmentalists: humans don't consume resources, humans create resources by inventing the technologies to make use of them."

    This is, of course, nonsense. Humans and all other living things clearly do consume resources (unless we think that, say, the amount of iron ore in the earth is infinite). The point is, rather, that the definition of "resource" changes with time depending on the available (and economically viable) technology that is available.

    All human activity (with a very few exceptions) simply changes the form of the matter of this planet to greater or lesser extents, rather than creating or destroying it. But that change can make the 'resource' involved siginificantly less available to those who follow.

    1. Tom 35


      Some resources may not be consumed (a sandy beach at a resort), but some are (if you burn oil it's gone), and others may be scattered so that they can't be reused at a reasonable cost (there is a little bit of gold in most things like cell phones, cameras, computers... but the cost of getting it back out at the end of it's useful life is more then it's worth).

      Economists are famous for defining a resource as something THEY can make money from while ignoring any external costs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I define thee

        Economists have much in common with environmentalists. They both make up a load of crap as they go along. And I dislike them both.

        We shouldn't invent fancy math to prove that being utter selfish bastards "is economical" and we shouldn't be hysterically shouting around unfounded or even provably untrue propaganda. Neither economics nor environmentalism? What I want then? A little of both, a boatload of neither. I think we ought to take good care of the earth we have, and see it as a custodianship for our kids' kids' kids' and so on. Least we could do, really.

        So yes, do go ahead and figure out how to make waste useful again. Even if it isn't quite "economical" right now. Do keep an eye out for not making the cure worse than the ailment, too. And don't keep on spending subsidies just because "it is green", especially not if doing so pushing out other promising technologies. Do, however, keep an eye on the total short and long term costs, and calculate them in full, including "creating" the resources for the process and cleaning up the mess afterward. It's not difficult, really. But it does require elbow grease, clue, vision, and realism. That's, like, hard, man.

      2. Andy ORourke

        You Sure?

        "there is a little bit of gold in most things like cell phones, cameras, computers... but the cost of getting it back out at the end of it's useful life is more then it's worth"

        What are Envirofone, Mazuma et al doing with the old phones people send in? I'm not too sure but I seem to remember hearing that the yield of recoverable gold in 1 ton of used cell phones was something like 50 times that in a ton of good Ore? (although this could just be complete Bollocks!)

        1. Tom 35

          Not that simple

          It would not be worth it if they had to pay to collect the phones and only received the value of the gold.

          There are now laws that require companies to deal with their end of life products, and fees to pay for recycling them paid at the time of purchase. People are told not to chuck it in the trash but to take/send it some place for recycling. The cost of breaking up the phones is subsidised so it's worth doing (and they don't end up in landfill or trash mountains in India or Africa).

          1. It Is Me

            Missing one of the stages

            The phone collection companies pay more for working phones as they can sell them on in countries where it is more important to have a phone at all than to have the latest greatest gadget.

            I would imagine the also try and use several broken ones to make one working one, and then and only then will they recycle them for the constituent parts

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      critical understanding fail

      You missed the point

      If we did not have the technologies that require oil (plastic/petrol/tarmac) oil would not be a resource it would just be black sludge that we don't need.

  5. frank ly

    Joined up thinking

    If the biggest 'problem' with red sludge is the high concentration of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), then why not mix it with some acidic waste from somewhere else to neutralise it? Maybe that would need communication, cooperation and joined up thinking......ah, no chance.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      IT Angle

      All it takes

      is for the acid producing process to have a leak at the same time as the red mud people

      ALthough knowing humanity , they'll arrange their respective leaks 6 months apart

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Not a lot of acidic waste.

      The most common source of acid waste is from mining and rock cutting. Last I checked, there aren't a lot of significant sources of acid mine/rock drainage near Hungary (the closest ones I know are in Spain). There's also the fact this drainage is pretty complex stuff. Mixing with caustic soda can be unpredictable.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    between the lines

    "as well as drowning people - as happened to some unfortunates in Hungary."

    reads as "i dont care about other humans, as long as I get the'chips' for my phone"

    Slightly insensitive?

    "Greenpeace (hey, surprise!) "

    Slightly arrogant?

    1. ArmanX

      I see that a bit differently...

      "as well as drowning people - as happened to some unfortunates in Hungary." reads (to me) as "similar to what happens with other types of flood, like, y'know, water."

      And "Greenpeace (hey, surprise!)" is dead on - name one environmental "disaster" that Greenpeace didn't jump on as either the end of the world, or leading to the aforementioned apocalypse...

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Arrogant towards Greenpeace?

      It's really not too hard.

      20 years ago I saw a demo against the use of Chlorine.

      I laughed out loud and erased Greenpeace from my concerns.

      Never looked back.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not so obviously then

      Does it read uncaring? Callous? Not to me. The article is about red mud and its properties. One of the properties is that you can drown in it. Did you know you can die under an avalanche too? Oh noes, that ebil ebil DHMO stuff struck again! Get over it already.

      As to arrogant, well, if you're referring to Tim the term you're looking for is "irony". Of course greenpeace can be depended upon to do their shouty bit. You can also depend on them overstating things to the point that they must have an intern or two on the task of finding technically correct but completely irrelevant things to produce flashy terror-laden headlines with. Which, as we all know, is a very helpful thing to do in cases like this.

  7. Gilleain Torrance

    Funding application

    "After all, my financing application went in four months ago and decision day is only six weeks hence"

    If I were a member of the review board, I would be asking you the following questions:

    a) Do you own any digging equipment? and

    b) Have you been to Hungary recently...


  8. Scott 39

    Ignorant propaganda much?

    Ignorant, as in ignoring that this has a deleterious effect on the ecosystem it is passing through.

    Imagine that, there is more to life than economics, which is the study of arbitrary factors. Simply because you have not decided to take into account some costs, does not mean they aren't there. This is the same kind of arrogant and dismissive analysis that leads people to conclude that there really is no pollution problem if it doesn't appear on the balance sheets. Well, you've swayed me. Lets start taxing carbon emissions and any other waste we can think of. That appears to be the only way to get some people to consider factors that don't fit into their narrow "economic" view. Otherwise, it's just more businesses freeloading on the backs of the public.

    This is my admittedly conservative view. I'm not for picking up the check for the lazy and irresponsible elements of society.

    And no, I'm not an activist. I just don't care for terrible analysis.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Just Red mud with a PH of 13 But Its ok ARE U FOR REAL

      IT IS JUST CAUSTIC SODA SO ITS OK. That the basis of your analysis. With a MAX alkalinity being 14, a measure of 13 is almost as bad as it can get. But wait it is only caustic Soda so we should not worry.

      Prolonged exposure to bauxite fumes which contain aluminum and silica particulates may cause Bauxite pneumoconiosis, also known as Shaver's disease. But guess what Silicates are just sand. ARE YOU FOR REAL.

      I am no tree hugging environmentalist but please start making some sense.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Shaver's disease

        Hardly a huge ENVIRONMENTAL catastrope.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So shine a light then, o wise one

      I look forward to reading your analysis enlightening us about all the deleterious effects on the ecosystem that haven't been expounded upon in Tim's analysis. I mean this in simple straight up fasion: If you know better, do tell.

  9. Martin Usher

    Not that big a pond anyway

    Google provides quite a nice aerial picture of the pond before the disaster. Its big, its a hazard if it gets loose but its not awe-inspiringly apocalypitically huge. As disasters go it doesn't even rate compared to something like Aberfan.

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Green mud

    Doesn't sodium hydroxide bond with carbon dioxide to make sodium carbonate? I'm waiting for somebody to put a green spin on this.

  11. F111F

    My Takeaway...

    from this article is that we should consume less water, for the time being at least, and drink more beer as compensation...Cheers!

  12. Levente Szileszky

    Let's clear some confusion...

    ...because there's a good reason why Greenpeace, Hungarian Academy of Science and independent experts all measure different things: as far as I can tell from the news abroad they all work with DIFFERENT SAMPLES.

    Academics work with samples taken on location, at various places, most likely by agents of other state authorities/services and submitted via official gov protocols, Greenpeace works with samples their people took in villages and surrounding areas while other experts often work with completely different samples, taken from industrial waste pools of similar byproducts, located in other parts of Hungary.

    I am completely neutral when it comes to Greenpeace - they did a lot of good as well as stupid things - but now I am having hard time imagining that a brand new, right-wing government is trying to manipulate scientists to suppress data about hazardous carcinogen being present at elevated levels in the mud... why would they do it? The culprit here is a private company (MAL) and the owners' list shows a familiar picture for anyone accustomed in Central-European politics: the usual group of few well-connected, former post-Commie bureaucrats/engineers-turned-billionaires - see Origo on this (in Hungarian):

    If the government wants to do anything then it is to blame the company for everything, with any evidence they can get their hands on so they can strike them with much higher fines.

    In short there's a good chance Greenpeace is indeed fluffing things a bit to raise the profile of this issue and their own - it wouldn't be the first time, after all...

    Disclosure: expat, born and raised in Budapest.

  13. veskebjorn

    Threat or Menace?

    Some may find Mr. Worstall's comments entertaining, but all Register readers should know that Mr. Worstall has little understanding of the matter. Insofar as Mr. Worstall has any insight into this most-recent, dire ecological catastrophe, it is informed by his adherence to an Ayn Randian economic and political ideology.

    Should you doubt the foregoing, please visit You will find today's (8 Oct 10) lead posting to be "Ignorant greenie whining.." You will also find the first two sentences of his self-description are: "Tim Worstall is an Englishman who has failed at many things. Thus his turn to writing, the last refuge of many who could make a living no other way." You will further find that his site's seven advertising links include two for payday loans, two for bad-credit loans, and one for "Gulf [of Arabia] Jobs."

    All of this may be intended to superficially humorous, in the same manner as ex-US-President George Bush, Jr., gave demeaning nicknames to his aides--his most important aide, Karl Rove, being called "Turdblossom." Or, more likely, Mr. Worstall's Web site is an accurate reflection of the man. Mr. Worstall may indeed be serious, and he may well have had, or now still does have, reason to borrow money at as much as 433% annual interest. Or, perhaps, his site's visitors are likely to need cash and jobs.

    No matter what motivates Mr. Worstall to denigrate science and promote scam artists, he should be pitied.

    Given Mr. Worstall's credentials, or lack thereof, the most charitable view of his remarks about the Danube is that he is ill-informed. When Mr. Worstall says "we," he does not mean "those with knowledge, experience and wisdom." The "we" amongst whom he includes himself is a group that is largely comprised of far-right ideologues.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, no relevant facts... your otherwise interesting posting.

    2. Chris Miller

      Play the ball, not the man

      If your only meaningful criticism is the ads on Tim's site (when I visit the front page, I see only HP and VJV, probably courtesy of Google), it may be better to remain silent and be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Re: Threat or Menace?

      @veskebjorn - "Some may find Mr. Worstall's comments entertaining, but all Register readers should know that Mr. Worstall has little understanding of the matter. "

      Err, read his blog and you will find that he has a great understanding of the matter.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      I think you dropped this

  14. Christoph

    We're all doomed!

    According to that highly reputable source the BBC in this article:

    it contains Calcium Oxide, CaO "'Quicklime', can cause skin irritation, burns and sickness."

    They are quite correct, that stuff is pretty dangerous, mostly because of the extremely violent way it reacts with water.

    So if it's been sitting around in a mud bath and is now in the river, can we see a slight error here children?

    Silicon dioxide? "Can cause lung diseases and cancer if inhaled as dust" - ever tried inhaling dust out of a river? Don't go near any beaches, sand is made of the stuff!

    Titanium dioxide: "Caused cancer when tested on animals" - that would be the stuff used in white paint?

    1. skeptical i

      Quicklime? New place for the BOFH's, um, "unsatisfied clients"?

      I hesitate to make light of what is clearly a horrendous situation (not just a wall of mud, but a wall of highly alkaline mud, with who- knows- what ecological eventualities), but if a resource presents itself it's a shame to waste it.

    2. Richard Pennington 1

      The BBC reporter made a schoolboy error

      The "red mud" contains an assortment of complex silicates, aluminates, titanates and compounds of all of the above, of variable composition and with one metal (or silicon) frequently substituting for another. So a shortcut, when the precise structure is not an issue, is simply to write the composition as a collection of oxides. So, for example, a simple calcium silicate CaSiO3 could be written as CaO.SiO2 (but most real examples are much more complicated). This gives an indication of which metals (for the sake of argument, including silicon) are present and in what proportions, but does NOT imply that the oxides are present separately... particularly the livelier ones suct as sodium and calcium oxides (neither of which would last long in a wet environment).

  15. scatter

    An article that oozes sneer

    Yet another toweringly insightful environment piece on the register.

  16. veskebjorn

    Mr. Worstall sneers as Hungarians die

    Mr. Worstall said: "Yes, of course, a flood of such stuff [toxic red sludge] ripping through villages is a disaster, not least for those who didn't survive it. But a long-term threat to the ecosystem? Nah, it's just something for the more excitable greenies to shout about."

    The death toll resulting from this flood is now seven. More may die. The relatives, friends, and neighbors of "those who didn't survive"and those who are still clinging to life appear to regard the problem in a rather different and substantially more permanent way than Mr. Worstall. Those affected, none of whom can reasonably be called "excitable greenies," appear to regard these deaths in a rather different light than Mr. Worstall.

    Mr. Worstall must examine his conscience and then humbly and sincerely apologize. Should Mr. Worstall prove incapable of this response, The Register must either discontinue his services or face the loss of much of the site's credibility in environmental and scientific matters.

    1. Chris Miller

      Which part of the word 'disaster'

      are you not understanding? You can take that foot out of your mouth, now.

      The article is all about the ludicrous overhyping of the *environmental* impact of this disaster. Of course I (and, I'm sure, Tim) sympathise with those who have been killed or injured, just as for the mudslide in China that killed at least 700 people.

      Yesterday (and today, and tomorrow) seven people were killed on the UK's roads. Very sad for those involved, naturally, but it puts the level of this disaster into perspective, I think.

      1. veskebjorn

        In the context of Worstall's views, "disaster" has little meaning

        Given what I have seen of Mr. Worstall's writing since I found his Danube piece offensive, I think it likely that he has scant concern or sympathy for the dead along the Danube, the dead in China, the dead in the UK, or the dead anywhere else.

        Mr. Worstall has a disturbing take on the world; he seems to believe that people's fates are almost entirely determined by individual merit and effort. Rather like the Calvinists, Mr. Worstall appears to regard individuals' good and ill fortunes to be the result of some intrinsic self-worth (or, for the Calvinists, worth in the eyes of God).

        My wife is a wildlife biologist. She regards the almost-certain destruction of the fauna and flora of the Danube as a long-term environmental catastrophe. It will take years for the river system to recover, and the resulting ecology will likely be rather different than the one that existed before the spill. Invasive and disturbance species (these are two separate groups) will have the upper hand for a long time to come. Exactly how long is speculative, and good scientists don't speculate.

        The environmental problems of the Danube basin have not been ludicrously overhyped. The deaths resulting from the incompetence of the corporation which produced the red sludge will lead to changes in laws and behaviors--and this will be another long-term environmental consequence of the affair, Mr. Worstall and Mr. (or Ms.) Miller notwithstanding.

        As to the attempts at sarcasm and denigration: they are inappropriate in such matters. The effect of such attempts, at best, is to amuse those who agree with you and dismay those who do not. Put another way, such behavior does not advance either your argument or cause.

        1. Chris Miller

          There's still time to remove that foot

          "I think it likely that he has scant concern or sympathy" - oh well, if you 'think' so, that's clearly an end of the argument. If you don't have any evidence, perhaps an apology might be in order.

          "almost-certain destruction of the fauna and flora of the Danube" - is this a fact, or just something else you 'think'? I've seen no evidence to support such a view or, as it might be, ludicous over-hyping.

          There are many valid reasons to be concerned about the health of the world's waterways and wetlands. Last time I was in Eastern Hungary, there was great concern about the pollution of the local rivers by cyanide from mining operations across the border in Romania. But Greens leaping onto the bandwagon of the latest news item, only serve to weaken the rational case for environmental improvement (the boy who cried wolf, etc.)

        2. Maty

          Yes ... but

          You and everyone else taking issue with this article seem to be objecting to the tone rather than the facts as given. According to Hungarian officials (Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and Tibor Dobson, a spokesperson for disaster crews) the risk to the Danube is now 'negligible'.

          So if the science in this article is good (and I've yet to see a proper rebuttal), then quite frankly, I'd rather take the 'sarcasm and denigration' than hysteria.

          But please step forward. Show us that 'the almost-certain destruction of the fauna and flora of the Danube' is indeed happening as a result of this spill. Otherwise, with all due respect, shut up.

  17. Winkypop Silver badge

    Send for the Goodies

    They know how to dispose of (toxic) sludge. They dealt with the ex-military green stuff, albeit with hair-raising results....

    1. Anomalous Cowturd

      40th anniversary coming up soon...

      The Goodies that is.

      A goody goody yum yum!

  18. heyrick Silver badge
    Dead Vulture

    What can I say?

    While the end of the world is rarely nigh, and the "greenies" overstate the dire consequences, that isn't to say this is really just some trivial "red mud", any more than Katrina was "a bit windy" or "bugger it, let's just dump the radioactive waste here, it isn't *that* dangerous *really*"...

    I'm speechless. I think I'll let the icon say it for me.

  19. Tim Worstal

    Quite true

    "What are Envirofone, Mazuma et al doing with the old phones people send in? I'm not too sure but I seem to remember hearing that the yield of recoverable gold in 1 ton of used cell phones was something like 50 times that in a ton of good Ore? (although this could just be complete Bollocks!)"

    I'm not sure of the modern numbers, but an old 286 chip will get you a tenner from a gold scrap dealer.

    "If the biggest 'problem' with red sludge is the high concentration of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), then why not mix it with some acidic waste from somewhere else to neutralise it?"

    One plant in Australia does something like this: bubbles waste ammonia from a nearby plant through it. The basic problem though is the volume/cost calculation. We're hoping to work with one of the smaller plants but even there there's 400,000 tonnes a year of red mud to deal with. And the alumina produced (about 200,000 tonnes a year) is worth $200 a tonne or so. There's just not a lot of money per tonne of waste (especially when you consider margin, not gross income) to play with.

    "Simply because you have not decided to take into account some costs, does not mean they aren't there."

    Strange allegation to throw at someone who has just revealed that part of their working life is to work on solving exactly this problem isn't it?

    "...why all the fuss about a bit of oil? It'll dilute in all that seawater and eventually it'll disappear, given enough decades."

    Sometimes this is true (that tanker that went down off the Shetlands in a storm a few years ago: a few weeks later no one could find any sign of the oil at all) and sometimes it isn't true. It depends you see. Depends on where, how much, what, how much water and what the conditions are. The important thing is to work out which is which situation. As, umm, the article tries to do.

    1. Richard Pennington 1

      One point

      Ammonia does't count as acidic waste - it is alkaline (but not as alkaline as red mud).

    2. Tom 35

      True but...

      "I'm not sure of the modern numbers, but an old 286 chip will get you a tenner from a gold scrap dealer."

      But what about the rest of the computer? Chuck it in a container and ship it off to India?

      If you have to deal with the whole computer it's going to cost to tear it apart and sort all the different materials, and some stuff you will have to pay to get rid of (mixed plastics, the motherboard with lead/tin solder for example). The only way you can make money is if you are subsidised. More places are charging e-waste fees at the time purchase to subsidise recycling at the end of life of the product.

  20. fissuria


    I think your post is absolutely out of context.

    What Tom is discussing is the environmental impact. Human lives are precious, no matter what nationality, and I don't think that the author thinks less.

  21. Anonymous Coward


    Amen. What annoyed me was that little chart the BBC put up on their news website (Chemical breaksdown of sludge). Aluminium oxide - caused cancer when tested! Silicon dioxide - causes cancer and lung disease if inhaled! They seemed to omit the dihydrogen monoxide - causes death within minutes if inhaled!

  22. Hud Dunlap

    But why the flood.

    The list of ingredients didn't concern me. It seemed to be a bit of scare mongering the way it was reported. But anyone can die in a flood. Everyone seems to ignore the fact that there was no disaster planning in place. And why did the dam fail?

    And just to show that it doesn't have to be a deadly chemical to kill in a flood.

    The above disaster greatly changed the law in the U.S. about storage containers. Hopefully it will do the same here.

  23. Terry H
    Thumb Up

    Outstanding article

    Brilliant, really brilliant.

    And just because I love the quote and it fits in normal conversation so seldom:

    "If it can't be grown it has to be mined."

  24. FanMan

    Hysterical reports

    Hysterical is it?

    If I woke up this morning to find my garden awash with toxic mud I would be pretty gosh danged hysterical.

    Once I worked out who was responsible me and my neighbours would get in my pick up and go round to his house, whereupon we would proceed to get HYSTERICAL on HIS ASS.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Yes, the reports are hysterical

      This is a humanitarian and economic disaster.

      Seven people have died, and thousands have lost their homes and livelihood. That is terrible.

      The point is that it's not actually the kind of environmental disaster that various news reports and Greenpeace have claimed.

      In fact, I find the environmental spin this event has been given quite distasteful, because it's distracting from the actual human cost of the incident.

      Lots of commentators seem more concerned with the environmental effect than the fact that SEVEN PEOPLE ARE DEAD.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Last time I saw...

    The Prime Minister of Hungary was describing this as a major environmental disaster.

    Either he is talking crap (I'm sure he'd be delighted if that were true) or this article is.

  26. Tim Worstal

    Apologies but....

    "But what about the rest of the computer? "

    It's a good decade since I last looked at the numbers properly so take this with a pinch of salt, for metals contents have fallen dramatically (gold plating is now in the 2 micron range, rather than the 200 of the 80s, as an example).

    But it certainly was true that once you actually had a pile of computers then it was profitable to recycle them for the metals content alone. It was collecting computers to make a pile that was the costly part.

    What has reduced profitability at least in part are the regulations about how you can recycle. For example, glass from monitors, simply not worth recycling, dump it. But it's got lead in it (monitor glass is about 25% lead oxide) which means that there are high landfill costs for it: despite glass being about the most stable substance we know of.

    As I say, I'm a little out of date here but I think it's still true that as long as you don't have to pay collection costs and have reasonable environmental laws in place then the recycling to metals part is profitable.

  27. Graham Bartlett

    Define "short-term"

    I'm sorely tempted to go for a FoTW, but I don't feel like looking as stupid as Tim Worstall does.

    Sure, rain and other water will eventually dissolve all this gunk and reduce the pH back to manageable proportions. Trouble is that it *will* kill every damn thing it manages to coat with the stuff. So every single plant in that area will be dead. Every fish in that water will be dead. Almost every insect, fungus and bacterium in that area will be dead. In other words, the entire ecosystem will be wiped out in this area.

    Given time, the pH will reduce and other stuff will come back to populate this dead zone. But it takes a long time to get a working ecosystem back up and running, especially when the damaging crap is still around - check out Prince William Sound (Exxon Valdez oil spill).

    So if you're defining "short term" as in "within a few hundred years or so", then fine. if you're defining it as "within a year", then things aren't quite like that.

    1. veskebjorn

      Amen, brother Bartlett

      I commend you. In the words of John Maynard Keynes: "It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong."

      You have stated the ecological problem better and much more descriptively than I did. Being married to a wildlife biologist, I take much of what you wrote for granted, which is an error on my part.

      Two notes so the ideologues can't seize on textual lacunae to tear you down: 1.) The red sludge can kill organisms without coating them; the alkaline water alone will do in most of the life (and pH is only one of the sludge's several lethal modes, which include coating, light blocking, poisons of other sorts, and more). 2.) Efforts to reduce the alkalinity with various chemical compounds will likely kill some surviving organisms in the areas in which these compounds are introduced.

      As a scientist, my wife will not offer an opinion as to when the Danube might return to "normal." She will say that the river will likely never be the same, at least within her lifetime (she is not a senior citizen). With respect to all such fact-free speculation, Keynes made another remark exactly on point: "In the long run we're all dead."

  28. Mark Ruit


    Re the Greenpeace "analysis of the analysis",

    IIRC a footnote pointed out that the silicon dioxide was "present as complex calcium and sodium aluminium silicates". The former of those is - roughly speaking - clay. My garden is full of it. Round here they dig it up and make it into bricks and tiles. Others turn it into useful items like (serially reusable) plates bowls and cups. Good Greenpeace-lovable stuff in fact. Okay, dried powdered clay is harmful to the lungs in a working or living environment, but only at well-detectable concentrations and over extended periods. Silica it ain't and silicosis it does not cause.

    Nil points for the Greenpeace and nil points for the BBC. I am usually sympathetic to the general direction of Greenpeace, but much like my children they piss me off when they do really stupid things. Like that table.

    As for neutralisation, there are several options around - what about flue gas desulfurisation? A very long way from being simple, but a local source.

    And I am surprised at there being only one person who has asked about the earth dam failure; it looks very like the same mode as the levee failure in New Orleans during Katrina, and that same failure is just waiting to happen in places on the Thames, downstream of the barrier.

    Lead in glass? Glass is very stable physically; bury a piece in the ground and it will look identical if you dig it up in 100 years. The aforesaid garden has yielded pieces of glass which seen to be that sort of age (fragments of Cod's bottles, instance). And BTW once-useful pieces of baked clay turn up as well, some datable by their design to ~150 years old.

    The chemical stability of glass is another matter - not my field but leaching of lead from old lead glass sounds eminently probable to me.

    Mine's the one with the Chemistry degree certificate in the pocket.

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