13 October 2010
Last week's serious accident at an aluminium plant in Hungary could lead to tighter regulation of waste dumps across Europe. Eight people died and large areas of land were polluted by waste which escaped in the incident.
Click to hear the report:
When the red sludge reservoir burst near Ajka in western Hungary, one of the first comments from the company was that this material is not classified as 'hazardous' by the European Union.
"That is strictly true", Joe Hennon, the EU spokesman on the environment told the BBC, insofar as the sludge is not on the list of highly toxic materials in the EU hazardous waste directive. But it is included in another directive, on pollution prevention and control, under which the plant received its permission to operate in 2006.
The question of liability for accidents is currently under review by the European Commission. In the Hungarian case, the company can be held liable for damage to the environment, but not for harm to people. And if an accident on the scale of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico were to happen in European waters, the company would not be held responsible for some of the damage, as oil drilling is not mentioned in the Environmental Liability Directive.
The Hungarian government says it intends to call for a tightening of legislation, at EU level, when it takes over the presidency in January.
Nick Thorpe, BBC News, Budapest
Click to hear the vocabulary:
thick muddy waste product
tank or storage facility, used to hold large quantities of liquid
- not classified
not categorised or defined
- highly toxic
poisonous or harmful to human life
- hazardous waste directive
official instructions for managing harmful materials
- under review
being evaluated or reassessed
- on the scale of
as large or significant as
- European waters
lakes, rivers, seas and oceans in Europe
- tightening of legislation
increasing the strictness of rules and regulations