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CEO doesn't 'feel' responsible in Hungary spill, but will aid efforts

By the CNN Wires Staff
  • CNN's Diana Magnay spoke to Zoltan Bakonyi, CEO of MAL aluminum plant
  • Bakonyi faces charges of public endangerment and harming the environment
  • Bakonyi denied there was evidence of reservoir leak before spill happened
  • Workers continue to prepare for possible new dam break

(CNN) -- The CEO of the Hungarian company behind a huge toxic spill on Thursday said he doesn't know whether he's responsible for the disaster, but added, "I have moral duties and I will fulfill them."

Zoltan Bakonyi, the chief executive of the MAL aluminum plant, spoke with CNN's Diana Magnay a day after he was released from jail pending trial. Bakonyi was detained on Monday, accused of public endangerment and harming the environment.

"It's said I should be responsible although I don't feel it," Bakonyi told Magnay. He insisted that MAL was in compliance with all Hungarian safety regulations and pointed out that he has only been CEO for two years. Bakonyi argued that the problems presented by the reservoir and the accumulation of toxin in it stretched back 25 years or more.

But he added that it is his "moral duty" is to "help" and put his energies "120-percent into the aid effort."

Bakonyi categorically denied that a hole was present in the reservoir in the days or weeks before the spill happened. Bakonyi said he had visited the reservoir in the weeks before the spill happened. But, he said he hadn't seen the photo released by the The World Wildlife Fund showing one of the pools of sludge -- a byproduct of the process to turn bauxite ore into aluminium oxide -- leaking into a nearby field. The WWF says the photo was taken in June.

Bakonyi also denied the spill was a consequence of overproduction or improper payment of workers. He maintained that there was no way to anticipate the accident. "The only way anyone could have imagine this happening," he said, "was in a terrorist attack."

MAL has "an idea" about how the spill occurred, but Bakonyi won't comment on what it is. He says no statement on causes will be released until Hungarian authorities complete their own investigation.

The Hungarian government announced Wednesday that MAL would resume operations by the end of the week.

Meantime, as cleanup operations continued, workers were racing to complete three emergency dams designed to contain a possible second toxic spill from the plant. Hungarian emergency services officials said more ruptures and cracks are evident in the dam walls, and that it's just a matter of time before they break and spill an additional 500,000 cubic meters of toxic red sludge across the countryside.

Nine people died after a river of mud engulfed the villages of Kolontar, Devecser, and Somlovasarhely last week. More than 100 people were injured and many times that number had to be evacuated.

The sludge from the spill reached the Danube -- Europe's second-largest river -- within days, raising fears of wider contamination in Hungary and countries downstream, including Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and the Ukraine. But water rests released Friday found that the pH level of the Danube water was only slightly higher than normal.

EU toxins experts still have nothing conclusive on the exact chemical composition of the sludge. Aluminum and bauxite processing normally involves compounds that include arsenic, cyanide, cadmium and chromium.

CNN's Diana Magnay contributed to this report