BUDAPEST, Hungary — An aerial photo taken months before a gigantic reservoir unleashed torrents of toxic sludge shows a faint red trail trickling through the container wall — part of a growing body of evidence that inspectors who gave the pit a clean bill of health may have missed warning signs.
Police were examining the photo Tuesday as part of an investigation into how part of the wall containing the 350 million cubic feet of caustic slurry could have given way without structural weaknesses being detected by a team of inspectors from the government environmental agency who inspected the container pond less then two weeks before the spill.
Disaster commissioner Gyorgy Bakondi, appointed to the newly created post Monday night, said Tuesday that the inspections were under investigation, including claims by environmental inspectors that "they had found everything in order."
As the police probe gathered steam, judicial authorities scheduled a court appearance for Zoltan Bakonyi, the managing director of MAL Rt., or the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Co., the company that owned the reservoir. They have to decide whether he should be formally charged, and if so, with what, and whether he should remain in custody.
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The photo showing an apparent leak of red sludge on the northern wall of the reservoir — the same wall that partially collapsed eight days ago — was taken by Interspect, a Hungarian company specializing in aerial photography that invests some of its profits on environmental projects, such as taking photos of locations in Hungary which could be at environmental risk.
Interspect director Gabor Bako said he shot the photo June 11, nearly 4 months before the spill. He said the company shared the photo with universities and environmental groups "but no further steps were taken in the matter" until the wall collapsed, freeing the caustic muck that flooded three west Hungarian villages about just over 100 miles from Budapest before being carried by local waterways into the Danube River.