When we started campaigning for the clean-up of a former chemical plant in April, everyone told us it was a hopeless case. And they were probably right – except they weren’t!
The site was practically an illegal dumping site in the middle of Budapest. Almost 2,500 tons of extremely hazardous materials were stored in appalling conditions. Only a few dozen metres away from residential areas, worn-down and damaged barrels were lying on the bare ground, with often-unidentifiable chemicals seeping into the soil and ground water.
The Story of the Expert, the Politician and the Journalist
For years, everyone – and by that, I mean really everyone – knew about the problem: the local council, authorities, the government, the former employees of the factory, and of course the people who, over the years, got used to inhaling the sometimes stinky air coming from the site. Yet, due to complicated ownership problems and lack of political will, nothing had happened for years. Every now and then, some article popped up here or a local politician held a press conference there, but after a few days of moderate outrage the momentum always died off.
And then came us. In April, a new and agile local councillor approached and invited both Gergely Simon, regional toxic expert for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, and a journalist to visit the site. The journalist published a front page article with shocking pictures – and bang, the story blew up.
With the coordinated work of these three determined people, we managed to keep the story on the top of the public agenda for 8 months. The Politician lobbied, the Journalist investigated and published regular articles, while we carried out various tests to see if and how the residential areas were affected by the contamination.
This kept going on and on, until the government couldn't do anything but take action. As a result, by now all the 2,493 tonnes of toxic waste has been removed and, according to the government:
- 1,870 tonnes of the waste has already been incinerated (in Dorog, Győr and Tiszaújváros, and in one incinerator abroad);
- the remaining 600 tonnes will be dealt with by the end of spring;
- a detailed measurement of the contamination on the site will begin now, including the detailed analysis of the soil and the ground water, with remediation plans to follow.
Our work isn't over yet of course. As we did in the past months, we will monitor the process closely and will hold the government to its promises until the complete remediation of the site is finished.
Last April we proposed a three-point action plan of which the first two – eliminating risk of fire or explosion and removing the barrels from the site – has been done by now. We know that the final victory is far. But today is a day to celebrate.