12 October 2010 The United Nations health agency today dispatched a team of experts to Hungary to support the Government-led assessment of potential immediate and longer-term health impacts of a sludge spill that affected the country’s western territories earlier this month.
The acute public health impact of the 4 October spill has been serious, but localized, with eight people killed and over 120 injured, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. The immediate health effects of the spill included drowning and chemical burns due to the elevated acidity of the red sludge.
Assessment is needed of the health effects of possible exposure to dust, water and locally-produced food that may contain increased amounts of heavy metals. The Hungarian authorities are continuously monitoring the situation and have taken the public health actions required at this stage, according to WHO.
The sludge entered the river Danube at the end of last week, and it may spread in attenuated form to countries downstream. This possibility and related heath effects will be evaluated.
While serious short-term health effects are considered unlikely, potential medium- and long-term effects through contamination from heavy metals can only be assessed as more information becomes available. The risk of contaminated dust spreading from the spill site to neighbouring countries is considered negligible.
The WHO mission will make an expert assessment of the short-, medium- and long-term effects of the spill on public health in the affected area. The Hungarian authorities will use the results to develop appropriate preventive action.
The team includes international experts in evaluating and managing health risks from the environment, particularly from contaminated water and chemicals.
WHO’s office for Europe is ready to provide technical assistance to the affected countries, if requested, the agency added.
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