16 July 2012

A redlined neighborhood

From a photoessay at American Photo:
[Palíndromo Mészáros'] work documents the aftermath of a 2010 toxic waste spill in Western Hungary, which killed nine people and forced the evacuation of thousands. The material, released from an aluminum factory, has left a permanent mark on the villages in its path. Mészáros made a pair of supervised visits to the site in order to document the effects of the spill...
According to the Wikipedia entry on the Ajka alumina plant accident, "The red mud involved in the accident is a waste product of the Bayer process, which refines bauxite into a form of aluminium oxide called alumina... Iron(III) oxide, the compound from which the red color originates, is the main component, but it also contains other compounds."

Posted primarily for the bizarre visual effect rather than for its relevance to the environment.


  1. What makes the visual effect even more unusual is the choice to align the top of the red line with the horizon. The photo would probably not be as strong visually with a different alignment.

  2. I first thought it was a composite image... very sad and stunning at the same time.

  3. Agree with Rick's statement re: horizon.
    Also.... I saw the pictures on another site and all I saw was the word alumina, which I only know a little about. But iron(III) oxide is just plain old rust. I wonder if there is more in the spill to make it toxic than just rust.

  4. i dunno- i think its photoshop action- look at the tree to the far right- about in line w/the tree more to the center w/the big Y - the tree to the far right doesnt have any markings at all.
    then on the left- 2nd set of trees marked red- between them? 2 prefectly uncolored trees. then-if you look at all the trees in the far background- doesnt seem to be any red marked ones.
    another nagging thing- the perfectly horizontal line... seems the top half is a lil fuzzier than the bottom half.

    well- off to follow the link to see the essay - perhaps this picture is a splice meant as art.

    1. I looked at it again and I do belive it's a splice, or composite. As you're saying, the trees in the background don't seem to be marked. We're probably looking at the blending of two layers: one with the rust colored trees and one without. The only spot where the rust line looks natural is on the LHS, where there is a group of 3 trees. The rest is way to straight, almost like someone selected the top half of the red layer with a rectangular marquee and deleted it.

      The red coloring came from iron oxide, but the mud was highly alkaline as it contained large quantities of sodium hydroxide.

      "The main damages caused by the accident first arose from the high pH of the mud, which was responsible for both severe chemical burns to human and animals and killing specimens in the rivers and in the contaminated soils."


  5. It looks like Goethite residue. Goethite is a common iron bearing element that is found in mineral deposits. As far as I am aware there is no real use for Geothite other than as pigmentation.

    @AM the picture is taken of a hillside. If you look carefully in the background you can see that the marking is lower on the trunks than the trees in the foreground.

    Having witnessed flows of Goethite residue at the Zinc Corporation of America site in Bartlesville, OK where a huge pile is (or was) stored I can say that the coloration and flow characteristics are what I would expect to see. Flows are fluid in a Newtonian fluid sort of way. If you stand nearby and let the flow run over you boots, you have a very hard time extricating yourself due to the high viscosity. As you noted you do not want to get this on bare skin as it will cause chemical burns if left on for longer than a few seconds.

    1. For sure, that alkaline mud is nasty stuff.

      About the picture itself, most of the visually stunning effect comes from aligning the marking with the horizon. I was not implying that it was extensively altered with image processing software (like Photoshop, Corel, GIMP, etc.), only that the straight line one can see on the foreground trees was digitally enhanced. The largest version of the image I found is 900 X 600 and available at this link:


      I zoomed in at 400% and looked at the rust line on several of the foreground trees. Some of my comments are highlighted here:


      To me it looks like a real picture was slightly enhanced to bring up the reds and to straighten the markings line. It does not make the picture a fake, by any means.


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