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Hungary’s Red Mud

November 29, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 48

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C &EN reported that two unfortunate souls perished in the onslaught of red mud—highly alkaline alumina refinery sludge—when the dam broke (Oct. 11, page 11). But how did these two people die? Was it from the alkalinity or the trace hazardous metals? Did they drown or die from other causes? You didn’t say.

I would think the chemical industry and others would be interested whether this was a failure of chemistry, engineering, or just bad luck.

Harvey Alter
Frederick, Md.

Red mud by-product from bauxite beneficiation to alumina is an ecological boon and a managerial travesty. The northern Pacific Ocean and Southern Ocean are iron depauperate and increasingly acidified from dissolved carbon dioxide.

Dispersing 100+ megatons/year of pH 13-micronized ferric oxide aqueous slurry rich in trace elements is perfect in every way. Seafood is inherently accumulative of arsenobetaine, arsenocholine, tetramethylarsonium cations (J. Agric. Food Chem., DOI: 10.1021/jf00008a017), dimethylarsinoylethanol, and arsenosugars (seaweed, bivalves) to several hundred ppm (

Enviro-whiners are social advocates demanding the virtue of failure. The worse the cure, the better the treatment—and the more that is required. Ignorance is not a form of knowing things.

Alan M. Schwartz
Irvine, Calif.


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