Today is blog action day, a yearly event in which bloggers get together to raise awareness on a specific area of concern. This year's topic is Water. Greenpeace has been busy recently assessing the damage caused by a toxic disaster in Hungary, which is affecting the local fresh water supply.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone living in the villages in Hungary that have been devastated by toxic red sludge. Less than two weeks ago, a mass of toxic mud swept through your house. It might have physically hurt you. The sludge was so toxic that you had to leave your house, your village, and be cast about. You might even know people who died.
For the last 10 days, you haven’t been able to go home. Your future is unsure – you don’t even know if you’ll ever be able to come home. In your village, the ground is unsafe to walk on, the water is unsafe to drink, the air is unsafe to breathe.
And then, suddenly, the government invites you back. The plant that the toxic waste came from is open. You still have to wear a facemask, but otherwise, everything is (officially) fine.
Would you believe the official announcement then that you are welcome back? Would the emotion of being able to go back home, the need to have your life back to normal, to see your neighbours in the street and wave at them, the simple comforting feeling of being home, would all that outweigh the little voice that would whisper in your head and wonder if it really is safe?
I wish I could put on a pair of rose-colored glasses and tell the Hungarian villagers that it will be fine, and that they can go back and breathe the air, drink the water, plant the fields. But heavy metals present in the water and in the air aren’t likely to magically vanish. And the Hungarian government is re-opening one of the villages without demonstrating to the people that it’s safe.
Today as well, the same Hungarian government is re-opening the aluminia plant from which the toxic red sludge originally came from. There still isn’t a safe way to store the existing red mud, yet the government considers it fine to create more of that toxic waste.
I hate to have to write this, but no one knows yet the extent of the contamination of the environment, so it’s close to impossible to know when the water will be drinkable and the air breathable. It might bring emotional comfort for people to be able to go back, but it’s dangerous for their health.
The toxic waste that devastated those villages should have been stored better, with long-term solutions. Safe storage of toxic waste, as well as reducing the amount of toxic waste we produce, are essential to protect our scarce water resources. Being confident the water you drink is safe shouldn't be a luxury. These Hungarian villages are forever scared, but this tragedy should be a wake up call, not only in Hungary, but all over the world, that toxic waste is a threat to our vital and limited fresh water supply.
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