Toxic Sludge

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Viscous porosities; this a key concept in Nancy Tuana's article entitled with the same name. In this article, Tuana discusses the Katrina disaster. She focuses on interactionism and how that is a key player in Katrina and disasters like Katrina. Recently Hungary had a disaster that shares similar properties with Katrina. Although it was not as large as Katrina in terms of deaths or expenses, it can be used to explore some of Tuana's key concepts. The disaster in Hungary involved an aluminum processing plant. The plant's containment wall malfunctioned earlier this month, and the byproducts of the manufacturing process flooded out in a tidal wave of alkaline sludge. This sludge was said to have a pH of almost 13 originally according to a BBC article. The sludge mainly effected the small village of Kolontar, but one main concern is how it will effect the Danube River once it reaches that area. Because the sludge was so alkaline it could burn through skin and cause serious respiratory problems. The main concern to date is whether this will happen again if the containment system fails again. _49432062_010372543-1.jpg
Some key points that Tuana discusses that can be related to the recent disaster are interactionism and viscous porosity. As discussed in her article, interactionism is how things relate to each other. One thing cannot stand alone. In the case of Katrina, the disaster cannot be solely blamed on nature. Pollution and climate change (a man-made problem) played a major role in the development of the hurricane. This interaction is the culmination of realist and social, natural and man-made. The disaster in Hungary is a disaster that fits into the scheme of interactionism. The sludge was man-made, however it was constructed of natural devices. It was the manipulation of natural elements that led to such a deadly substance. One cannot separate the nature from the artificial in this case much like the Katrina disaster. There is no line, it is fluid and cannot be pulled apart. Viscous porosity is another key concept in Tuana's article. Viscous porosity is the fluidity of interactionism. Tuana describes viscous porosity in the context of PVC and its relation to human flesh and flesh in a global context. She describes how PVC is fluid within the body and the global context. It can permeate everything. This can be seen in the sludge in Hungary. The sludge imbues whatever it comes into contact with; especially human flesh. Because of the high alkaline qualities, it is easy to break down barriers (flesh, paint, walls etc.) and pass through and into areas otherwise protected. The actual substance has an innate viscous property that can make whatever it comes into contact with porous. Tuana states in her article to further support this point, "Once the molecular interaction occurs, there is no divide between nature/culture, natural/artificial. These distinctions, while at times useful, are metaphysically problematic, for there are important migrations between and across these divides that can be occluded by efforts to posit a dualism" (Tuana, 202).
I would like to ask, how can this disaster be further related to the Tuana article and Hurricane Katrina? What are other examples of interactionism and viscous porosities that can be concluded from this disaster? For further articles see the BBC.

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This disaster is a perfect illustration of Tuana's viscous porosity. The red sludge embodies the word viscous while its basicity can permeate most substances including the walls of the homes in the Hungarian town, Kolontar. We find other examples in further examination. First we ask these two physical/social dichotomic questions:

Physically what happened and what caused the deluge of sludge? The containment wall for a lake of toxic sludge cracked. This was due to a natural disintegration of the wall with time. About 700,000m3 of the more liquidly aluminum processing byproduct flooded into Kolontar and the surrounding areas including the river Marcal. A possible total failure and collapse of the wall could result in another even more toxic and thicker wave of about 500,000m3 of sludge released.

Socially who is to blame? The MAL Hungarian Aluminum company is the owner of the reservoir. The company has stated that the incident was a “natural catastrophe” and unforeseeable. But the Hungarian Prime Minister noted "The wall [of the reservoir] did not disintegrate in a minute. This should have been detected."

The individual answers mean little and even the sum of the answers are not enough of an explanation for the families of the victims. But with Tuana’s Interactionism, when these two answers are intertwined we can make more sense of the complex interaction between them. MAL should be responsible for their reservoir but they didn’t know it would fail but they should have had safeguards to protect the town but maybe the Hungarian government shouldn’t have allowed it to be there, but it was put there during the soviet government’s rule whose collapse led its satellite nations into calamity… And thus in Interactionism we find a whole history of the Hungarian people struggling through changing governments, poverty and disaster. The disaster cannot be adequately separated into a physical/social dichotomy because it exists between them. It is has a viscous porosity that seeps from one category to another but irrevocably leaves a sticky mess behind.

Some sources for your own reading:
MAL Hungarian Aluminum company
Red Sludge only Latest Hungarian Calamity

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This page contains a single entry by steen118 published on October 8, 2010 10:30 AM.

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