Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Toxins of 'Progress' Flow the Streets Behind Mine 
by Jenna Goodhand 
‘Hungary declares state of emergency’ the headlines read Tuesday morning at breakfast. As an English speaking Canadian currently living in Hungary, I am informed at the delayed rate of those who live miles away, but the catastrophe resides in my backyard. Jenna Goodhand of the 'Climate Sustainability PLATFORM' shares her researched opinion. 

Monday, October 4, 2010 is a date now forever etched in the minds of Hungarians in what has been declared this country’s worst chemical accident. As the reservoir wall split at the Alumni Production and Trading Company in Ajka, western Hungary, red sludge filled the streets, homes and fields of 7 local villages before seeping into the Danube River Thursday. 

The toxic red silt, which is the byproduct of refining bauxite into alumina, has been held in the reservoir for years. The powerful emergence of the sludge once released from its repository swept through the village of Ajka taking 7 humans lives and resulting in over 100 injuries as the pressure knocked cars, bridges and people over and sent many to the hospital with burns as the toxic waste ate through their clothing. Many animal lives have been lost and the landscape that was once relied on for agriculture has been deemed desolate of nutrients. A predicted 2cm deep of soil would have to be removed from the entire contaminated region for it to be productive. The local citizens of the area have been asked to evacuate for precautionary health measures and as fears of a second flood loom overhead. This is not just a Hungarian issue, as the Danube River where the sludge has drained, effects the neighbouring countries of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, and Romania where it eventually reaches the Black Sea. Many experts say the full magnitude of this environmental catastrophe will not likely be known for years to come. 

The definitive cause of the reservoir breach is still undetermined as accusations of who is to blame pass through online forums and city streets. Perhaps this isn’t a result of irresponsible people, but an irresponsible system, a system that is driven by short-term profit without long-term consideration. Many fingers and attacks have been made at capitalism, but in the absence of capitalism these disasters have still taken place. One may argue that the failure is not on capitalism but on the weakness to assess global production and consumption methods to minimize climate change and environmental sustainability that would prevent misfortunes such as this one. 

Not only do events such as these cause bewilderment and outrage but those who suffer most are local citizens working in the area, exploited to a situation that endangers their safety, health and the environment in which they live. Alternatively those who benefit live borders away, out of immediate harm, not thinking twice about the implications their business or purchases have on those who risk their lives so that they may fulfill some fictitious image of what it means to be successful. 

The amount of toxic sludge that left the reservoir was nearly the size of the BP Oil Spill; an incident that had us somewhat captivated for months this past summer. Now that the oil has stopped ‘spilling’, the headlines have come to a halt and the topic rarely makes conversation. For those of us who saw the underlying cause and long-term environmental tragedies, we know this story is long from over as ecosystems and biodiversity in the area make desperate attempts to revive themselves in an area blanketed in the failures of our economic production model. My predictions are that as the clean up becomes less entertaining, as the excitement of lives being threatened fades, the disaster in Hungary will too diminish into the shadows as a forgotten blip in a production and consumption system that cannot continue to be ignored. 

We seem to be living in an ever-increasing world of disasters, as tsunamis, floods and hurricanes destroy lives in every corner of the globe. But what we must realize is that this particular catastrophe is not a natural disaster. These events must cause us to question the wisdom of the prevailing development model that gambles with nature. Particularly the widespread failures to take nature, restructure it into something inorganic, and create offsets that not only threaten our own lives but the balance of the entire planet.

As participants in the global consumer trade of goods and services we hold the power to support or reduce the injustices our purchases sustain. We are all guilty when an event like this happens because some way or another we support the system that has allowed this to continue. The toxic flood in Hungary may seem like an isolated event, but we all suffer when the environment does. If not today, in the future, as the borders that devise our countries do not constrain the implications of the pollutions, destructions and havoc we exert. We must begin to question where are products come from and at what cost. 


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