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Beware of the toxic sludge!

For the past couple of days images have been emerging from Hungary of menacing toxic red sludge following a chemical spill from an alumina plant reservoir in Veszprem.

Today the BBC has reported that the spill has contaminated water around the reservoir and desperate efforts are underway to stop it flowing into the River Danube. Four people are known to have died and three others are missing.Amnesty is deeply concerned about the impact of the leak on people affected in the surrounding area.

The human cost of environmental catastrophes and the impact on lives is all too apparent. The BP oil spill, which has dominated the news for months, is an obvious example with the fallout and recriminations set to continue- the leaking oil well has only just been sealed after it spewed millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

But there are many environmental tragedies that slip under the news radar.
The Hungary story rang a bell because it’s very similar to what’s happening in India with the UK based company Vedanta, who operate an alumina refinery in Orissa.

Local people have told Amnesty researchers that the plant is causing air and water problems, and has affected their health and their access to water. There has been no health monitoring and the extent of the damage has been kept from the local communities. Plans to extend their mining operations to a nearby site which is sacred to an indigenous tribe were halted in August by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Amnesty has been campaigning for Vedanta to address the human rights and environmental impacts of the refinery and not to begin mining elsewhere until the problems are resolved and adequate safeguards are in place, we don’t just want the problem moved elsewhere. And it’s not just Vedanta; Amnesty has also been campaigning for Shell  to end gas flaring in the Niger Delta which local communities say pollutes the air and water.

In Hungary the authorities have pledged a full inquiry into the disaster as it appears that the company responsible has breached strict EU regulations. But elsewhere and all too often it’s an ongoing struggle to call on companies to clean up their acts!

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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