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UN human rights official to probe Hungarian chemical spill

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Two years after toxic sludge from an alumina plant burst through a dam in western Hungary, a top United Nations representative is due to visit the area to investigate the human rights and environmental impact of the deadly incident, European Union news website Euractiv.com wrote on Wednesday.

Toxic red sludge broke through a reservoir wall of the aluminum company MAL near the west Hungarian town of Ajka on October 4, 2010, killing ten people as it flooded neighboring villages as well as huge areas of agricultural land. The spill also contaminated nearby streams and rivers.

UN Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu will arrive in the area on the second anniversary of the disaster to investigate the potential environmental impact of chemicals and other hazardous substances on waterways, workers and people living near industrial sites, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced.

“I will examine obstacles in the policy and legal framework relating to chemicals and waste management, and explore alternatives for the protection of people from the adverse impact of these hazardous substances,” Georgescu said in a statement.

It's the first time a UN human rights official specializing in environmental disasters has gone to Hungary.

The disaster prompted the Hungarian government to declare a state of emergency and to activate the EU’s civil protection mechanism, a mutual aid agreement with other European countries.

The alumina company paid a €477 million fine for environmental damage last year. In September, the head of the plant and 14 employees went on trial on charges of criminal negligence in connection with the spill.

Spills on the magnitude of the one at the Ajka plant are relatively rare and industrial pollution in many European rivers has declined since the 1960s. Tougher treatment laws, international cooperation and EU policies like the 2000 Water Framework Directive and 2006 Groundwater Directive are credited with the improvements.

During his six-day visit, Georgescu will investigate the cleanup, reparation for victims as wells as efforts to eliminate threats to workers and residents living near heavily polluted operations, the UN statement said.

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