It is about a week before early voting begins for a bunch of us around the country, and that means this may be one of the last times I have to convince you that, frustrated progressive or not, you better get your butt to a ballot box or a mail-in envelope this November, because it really does matter. Now I could give you a bunch of "what ifs" to make my point, or I could remind you how we spent all summer watching oil gush into the Gulf, and how that came to be. But, instead, it's "Even More Current Event Day", and we're going to visit Hungary for a extremely real-world reminder of what can go wrong when the environmental cops are considered just too much of a burden by the environmental robbers. If today's story doesn't scare you to death, I don't know what will. It ain't Texas, but we will surely visit a Red River Valley and you surely won't like what you're gonna see.
"...Oui, ma foi, c'est un bougre déterminé..." --A sailor aboard the French ship Héros describing his Admiral, Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, 1783. Quoted from the book "Command at Sea", by Oliver Warner.
So here's the long and the short of it: Monday afternoon a sludge pond failed near the town of Devecser, Hungary. That failure has so far released about 265,000,000 gallons of extremely toxic sludge from a facility that mines bauxite as part of the process of making aluminum. That release manifested itself as a full-scale flash flood, which (courtesy of the RT network) looks something like this:
The red lake and the red mud that you see flowing like a river in the video has killed four people so far, injured hundreds, inundated four towns, and is on its way to the Danube River if it can't be stopped, where it will become part of the water supply for millions of Europeans. It turns out that bauxite ore contains alumina, which eventually become aluminum, but to get that alumina you apparently need huge quantities of caustic soda, in water, to make the extraction process work. The problem is that you extract more than just alumina: the same ore can contain lead, or cadmium, or any number of other heavy metals, including radioactive materials. The waste materials are discharged as sludge into holding ponds at the mine for further treatment, and the failure of one of those ponds is how we came to today's story. According to the BBC, emergency workers are pouring tons of plaster into the Marcal River in an effort to stop the flow of the liquid, and Hungarian Government experts believe the top inch of topsoil will have to be removed from the entire land area affected by the flood. So what's all this have to do with the upcoming American elections? Well, I'm glad you asked. This is not a problem somehow unique to Hungary...nor Brazil, nor Jamaica, either. We have sludge ponds of our own, many associated with coal mining, and in fact, one of those failed in Kentucky in 2000, in a massive way, and by 2004, things hadn't improved much at all in terms of cleaning up the mess. Others are associated with the other end of that process: coal-fired power plants have coal ash containments of their own, and they also fail. A pond failure in Tennessee in 2008 probably released over a billion gallons of waste into the local rivers. And if our Republican friends have their way, this will continue. Even as we speak, the EPA is considering regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste for the very first time--and if Republicans gain control of Congress, wanna guess how the considerating will come out? Look, folks, I know we're all frustrated that we aren't where we want to be with this Administration, but you gotta know that if you don't show up for this election, we are going to be dealing with Republicans who are far nuttier than what we have right now--and while I know that it was a fantastic change of pace to be able to vote for someone in '08, the plain fact is that most of the time, you're voting against something, and this time, that something is the insanity of the Tea Party. These Republicans are some very determined buggers, to quote that French sailor, and we have to be just as determined to stop these folks--and to do it where it counts, in places like Kentucky and West Virginia and Delaware--because if we don't, it means another generation of people in coal towns living with water they can't drink and cancer they can't cure, more rivers and wetlands and aquifers destroyed all over this country...and, eventually, it means all of this contamination, one way or another, will find its way to you and your family. Voting matters.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In the few days since this was written, the spill has reached the Danube.