WHO experts help Hungary evaluate toxic sludge health threat

12th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

The World Health Organisation sent a team of experts to Hungary on Tuesday to help authorities evaluate health threats from the deadly spill of toxic sludge from an alumina factory.

The team includes international experts in evaluating and managing environmental health risks, particularly from contaminated water and chemicals, the UN health agency's European office said in a statement.

"The WHO mission will make an expert assessment of the short-, medium- and long term effects of the spill on public health in the affected area," it added.

The results of the mission's evaluation are meant to help Hungarian authorities develop appropriate preventive action.

However, the WHO mission will also evaluate the possible impact of an "attenuated spread" of substances from the sludge to countries downstream along the river Danube.

"While serious short-term health effects are considered unlikely, potential medium- and long-term effects through contamination from heavy metals (for example entering the food chain) can only be assessed as more information becomes available," the agency said.

The WHO added that the risk of contamination from dust spreading to neighbouring countries from drying sludge was considered "negligible".

The reservoir of toxic residue from an alumina plant in Ajka, 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Budapest, burst a week ago, sending a wave of toxic sludge through surrounding villages and polluting the Danube and its tributaries.

At least eight people died in the disaster and 150 people were injured. Forty-five people remain hospitalised, two in very serious condition.

Several people said they suffered burns from the sludge.

© 2010 AFP

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