CONTAMINATION AND POLLUTANT ATTENUATION DOWNSTREAM OF THE KOLONTÁR RED MUD IMPOUNDMENT FAILURE, HUNGARY

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull
Department Name: Biological Sciences

Abstract

The major pollution event caused by the breach of a dam containing red mud (a by-product of bauxite ore processing for alumina manufacture) at Kolontár in Hungary received widespread international media attention in early October 2010. This is the first event of its type and scale in Europe. While there have been similar events where dams holding mine wastes have failed, which are often acidic or rich in cyanide and ecotoxic metals, there have not previously been documented large scale releases of waste material with the extremely alkaline nature such as that released at Kolontár. Initial environmental monitoring at the site was focussed on the immediate impacts of the hyperalkaline (pH up to 13) water on the receiving streams, which had a major effect on instream organisms for over 50 miles. Beyond this short-term impact and given the lack of precedent for such events, we know relatively little about the longer-term behaviour of the potential contaminants released in the red mud. At other sites affected by hyperalkaline waters from red mud (albeit on a far smaller scale), such contaminants of concern include aluminium, arsenic, molybdenum and vanadium. This study aims to undertake a detailed analysis of the sediments and waters downstream of the spill to assess the nature and form of these, and other trace contaminants. This information is crucial to (a) characterise the spatial extent and severity of the polluted area, (b) assess which specific contaminants are present in the waters and sediments at levels of environmental significance and (c) understand the long-term prospects for mobility and availability of trace elements in the river systems downstream of Kolontár. Detailed sampling of the different phases (e.g. suspended in water, dissolved in water, settled on streambed) of contaminants along the impacted areas of the Marcal, Raba and Mosoni-Duna rivers will be undertaken. The field sampling will be coupled with laboratory tests on the mobility of cominants in the sludge. Together, these data will help us understand the spatial trends in nature and form of contaminants and how key variables such as pH and the particle size distribution of the released materials are likely to affect their long term mobility in the environment. The work will be undertaken in liaison with scientists in Hungary and the outputs of the work will directly inform long-term management of the pollution spill. Beyond the direct relevance to management of the situation in Hungary, the improved understanding on how trace contaminants from caustic waste materials behave in the environment after such a major event will be useful for informing environmental management at other polluted sites.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The spill of bauxite processing residue (red mud) at Ajka in western Hungary in 2010 was the largest release of this industrial residue to the environment ever recorded. Our worked showed that the red mud was enriched with a range of chemical compounds and elements that could pose a threat to the environment. These included very high pH, high salinity and enrichment of metals such as arsenic, aluminium, chromium and vanadium. We demonstrated that despite the large volumes of red mud released, most of the potentially toxic metals found were in chemical forms that were generally of low likelihood to cause harm to aquatic organisms. However, some elements, such as vanadium, were in their most toxic form and could pose long term threats to the affected river systems if the red mud was left on floodplain areas.
We also assessed the effectiveness of the remedial efforts enacted by the Hungarian authorities. In follow up surveys in 2013, we found that there was little chemical evidence of the red mud spill in the affected river systems 100km downstream of the spill site. This was because of the fine-grained nature of the spill material (which lends itself to downstream transport and dilution) and the extensive remedial efforts which removed large quantities of red mud-contaminated sediments to new disposal sites. This was a very encouraging finding in terms of the long term recovery of the affected system. We also showed that some of the remedial efforts, notably gypsum dosing, encouraged the sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere and stabilised some of the metals in the sediments. This has broader relevance for management of red mud, which is produced in increasing quantities globally, in terms of techniques for stabilising wastes and minimising environmental risks.
Exploitation Route The findings are of use for disaster management at similar spill sites elsewhere. More importantly, the findings are important for the longer term management of red mud at other sites elsewhere, to minimise environmental risks at red mud disposal sites.
The work also demonstrated the large inventories of chemically mobile elements (e.g. Cr, V, REE) which could be recovered for both security of supply of critical raw materials and minimising the environmental risks these elements may pose. This is subject to another NERC grant in collaboration with industrial partners.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=1767&cookieConsent=A
 
Description Findings of the work were communicated to Hungarian authorities via project partner Prof Katalin Gruiz (Budapest University of Technology and Economics) and with a direct address to Secretary of State Dr Zoltan Illes by the grantholder PI. This information was used to assist in directing some of the longer term management of the spill.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence
Amount £14,200 (GBP)
Funding ID AIR-2014-012 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2015
 
Description Resource Recovery and Remediation of Alkaline Wastes
Amount £1,100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/L014211/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 09/2017
 
Description Austrian cancer experts 
Organisation Medical University of Vienna
Country Austria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration between Universities of Hull, Leeds and Vienna (Medical University). Leeds and Hull provided sample analyses and interpretation for experiments undertaken by the Austrian team.
Collaborator Contribution The Vienna team undertook experiments which added significant value to the environmental risk assessments undertaken as part of the NERC work.
Impact Paper in Science of the Total Environment (DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.06.052). Disciplines involved are oncology, epidemiology, geochemistry and environmental science.
Start Year 2011
 
Description Limerick, Ireland 
Organisation University of Limerick
Country Ireland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr WM Mayes acted as technical reviewer of pilot scale bioremediation system for highly alkaline red mud leachate. Discussions as part of the formation of a consortium, BRAVO, recently recognised as a Raw Materials Commitment (RMC) by the High Level Steering Group of the European Innovation Partnership.
Collaborator Contribution Discussions as part of the formation of a consortium, BRAVO, recently recognised as a Raw Materials Commitment (RMC) by the High Level Steering Group of the European Innovation Partnership.
Impact Consortium recognised as a Raw Materials Commitment (RMC) by the High Level Steering Group of the European Innovation Partnership. The partnership is multi-disciplinary: chemical engineering, geotechnical experts, environmental geochemists, ecologists, materials scientists.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Burke - US TV appearance 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Burke I. T. (2011) The red mud accident at Ajka Hungary. Interview for MSNBC programme 'Caught on Camera' television show. (Screened in March 2012.)
Led to further enquiries for information.


Led to further enquiries for information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Cafe Scientifique (WM Mayes) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on the red mud incident to a generalist audience at a public house in Beverley. Part of a Cafe Scientifique public science series. Extensive discussion afterwards about environmental risk, chemicals in the environment and environmental law.

Requests for additional talks
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Commentary on Rio Doce mine spill (Brazilian media) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview with Brazilian journalist about the impacts of recent Brazilian mine tailings failure and comparisons with events in Hungary.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://operamundi.uol.com.br/conteudo/reportagens/42318/rompimentos+de+barragens+de+mineradoras+tem+...
 
Description Mayes - La Recherche 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview about the environmental effects of the red mud spill that appeared in the popular French Science magazine "La Recherche". This led to specific requests for further information from France and Hungary.

Requests for further information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Mayes Planet Earth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Interview and subsequent press release about the recovery of the rivers affected by the red mud spill.

Discussions with alumina industry trade organisations - impact of this yet to occur.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=1767&cookieConsent=A
 
Description Mayes RSC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Interview with the Royal Society of Chemistry and subsequent press release about the recovery of the systems affected by the red mud spill.

Some further requests for information forthcoming.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/10/hungary-ajka-red-mud-river-system-recovery
 
Description Newcastle seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Seminar on project: Alkaline residues and the environment: impacts and opportunities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description OU Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited seminar at Open University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Renforth Planet Earth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact interview and subsequent press release about carbon capture as a result of the red mud spill in Hungary

Story picked up by other web news providers (Science Daily etc.) that increased dissemination to generalist audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=1177
 
Description Rotary club (WM Mayes) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on the Hungarian red spill. Talk sparked questions and discussions about environmental risk and liabilities associated with extractive industries.

Talk led to further requests for public talks and consultancy income advising on some local pollution issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013