BUDAPEST, HUNGARY — Two former executives of an alumina plant in Hungary were convicted and sentenced to prison recently for an industrial disaster that killed eight people and injured more than 220 in flooded towns and villages, a Hungarian court said.
Zoltan B., the former CEO of MAL Zrt., received a prison term of two-and-a-half years for public endangerment and other crimes, while Jozsef D., a deputy CEO, received a two-year sentence.
In keeping with privacy rules, the court did not identify the defendants by their full names.
On Oct. 4, 2010, a wall of a huge reservoir of the plant collapsed, flooding three towns and villages with about two million cubic metres of toxic red sludge and water.
The highly alkaline mix burned the skin of the victims, some of whom were swept away by the force of the rushing flood and drowned. One of the victims was 14-months-old.
Eight other people on trial for the 2010 disaster received suspended prison sentences, fines or reprimands, while the city court in Gyor acquitted five. All 15 defendants were acquitted of all charges in 2016, but an appeals court ordered a retrial.
The trial court ruled that MAL Zrt. managers and employees broke numerous rules regarding the storage and handling of the leftover sludge and water from producing alumina, the main raw material for making aluminum.
“The defendants’ negligence contributed to the catastrophe, since they did not deal with the warning signs of a possible breach,” the court said in a statement. “And they misled area residents and authorities regarding the true amount and toxicity of water accumulated due to the rule violations, which ultimately became determinant factors of the catastrophe.”
The court also said the defendants did not notify authorities or were late doing so regarding the sludge flood and its toxicity. The former CEO also made wilfully misleading statements about the dangers of the spill, the court found.
The amount of water stored in the 25-hectare reservoir, over one million cubic meters, was more than twice the limit and its toxicity exceeded the permissible level.
In its ruling, the court also faulted poor planning, construction and maintenance of the reservoir.