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State to take action to keep sludge flood company running

The state of Hungary will do everything in its power to ensure the further safe operation of alumina maker MAL and protect thousands of jobs, National Economy Ministry state secretary for domestic economy said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The Rural Development Ministry announced on Wednesday that the government fined MAL HUF 135.1 billion for environmental damage caused by a toxic sludge spill at its plant in Ajka (NW Hungary). A reservoir at the plant ruptured last October, sending a flood of red sludge through surrounding villages that killed ten people and damaged hundreds of homes. The event was Hungary's worst ever environmental disaster.

Szatmáry said MAL has every chance to continue operating in spite of the fine, providing work for about 1,200 of its own employees and some 6,000 people employed by its suppliers.

The Hungarian National Asset Management Company (MNV) has been in talks with the owners of MAL on a possible change in ownership since February, he added.

MAL has 15 days to pay the fine, during which time it may also appeal to the state's environmental protection authority. The authority must take a decision on the appeal within 30 days. If it upholds the fine, MAL may still turn to the court.