environmental destruction

Construction waste is piling up in a Budapest suburb, worrying locals but not authorities

The town of Üröm is a suburb of Budapest. It has long been struggling with commuter traffic passing through its main roads every day, but it is has been facing new challenges recently: construction waste and debris are being deposited on some of its arable lands, and a private company has just been granted a permit to recultivate an old stone mine. The latter would mean dozens of trucks on the streets of Üröm for a decade. Locals are furious, but authorities are not doing anything to stop any of these issues.

The first story Atlatszo has been tracking in the past few months considers constriction waste being deposited at arable land in Üröm. This is illegal in Hungary.

About a meter high construction debris mixed with dirt piles up on the fields and in the forests covering an area of five hectares between Üröm and Budakalász. According to locals trucks are carrying something that looks like construction waste and debris and are depositing it on the plot that is categorized as arable land grazing pasture. The land is owned by a private citizen.

We first asked the local environmental authorities (Pest Megyei Kormányhivatal Érdi Járási Hivatala Környezetvédelmi és Természetvédelmi Főosztálya) about what was going on: they said we should not worry because only ’uncontaminated fillers’ are being deposited in the area.  They said that after inspecting twice, the are they concluded that what was deposited was not considered ’waste’ and that there was no reason to take any measures.

The environmental authorities did not give us any more details thus we filed a freedom of information request, asking to see the documentation of the two inspections that were carried out.

According to the documents we received, 40 tonnes of ‘soil and stone’ were transported to Üröm and it was coming from the XIII. district of Budapest, from around Meder street. The location data revealed that it was coming from near the construction site of the Marina Part real estate development project.

The report concluded that the material is ‘no longer considered waste’ and thus it is being handled as if it was free from contamination.

The report says that the level of hazardous materials in the debris os below the level that is considered dangerous. However, the amount of arsenic and lead is very close to dangerous levels in the debris.

According to Hungarian law, it is illegal to deposit waste and debris on arable land. However, local authorities are not doing anything to remedy the situation.

Dozens of trucks carrying stones, for ten years

The other story worrying Üröm citizens concerns the reclamation of a stone mine. Local environmental authorities have recently granted permission to a private company to transport construction waste and debris to the old stone mine of Üröm. The company is planning to transport the debris with 23 trucks every day.

Locals are worried about their water: the mine reclamation site is closely located to their water source. They are also worried about the environmental, noise and pollution impact of 23 trucks carrying the waste every day across their village.

The local authorities announced on their website last December that they are examining a request by Stonemine Ltd. to carry 300,000 cubic meters of waste into its mine in the first year and to carry on with the mine reclamation for ten more years.

Locals claim that they had not been previously notified about the process and that the local council had not discussed the issue, either.

Apparently, nobody in Üröm had been aware of the request for the permit by the company, even though the reclamation works will cause significant dust and noise pollution and the mine reclamation will take place near a water-sinkhole that is a significant water source for the area.

Locals also claim that the roads that the trucks are using are not suitable for freight transport, and the local government should prohibit the transport of waste on public roads entirely. However, the mine can hardly be approached on any other routes.

Another argument is that the mine reclamation will take place on a site that is part of a protected zone. Local patriots from the NGO called For Üröm Association (Ürömért Egyesület) claim that the mine reclamation poses an increased risk to their drinking water.

It is not entirely clear at this point who in the local council knew about the process and who did not. The issue brought some deep political tensions to the surface.

The process was started in December 2018 and the local council of Üröm first discussed the issue in February 2019. Councilwoman Marta Kelemen claimed that the local government did not receive any notification from the authorities about the process.

However, mayor Gabor Laboda stated the opposite, saying that the local government knew about the procedure and informed the locals ‘as usual’.

Laboda was a Member of Parliament between 2002 and 2010, has been the independent Mayor of the town since 2010. He was the member of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP)  that was in government between 2002 and 2010. Laboda is said to be ruling Üröm as and independent with an ‘iron fist’ now, without consulting anyone on the important issues.

The mayor was reluctant to discuss the mine reclamation as well – it was put on the local council’s agenda only in February, after councilman Laszlo Szalona from Fidesz insisted on it.

Laboda quickly changed course: on February 27 he was outraged and claimed that the mine reclamation has to be stopped ‘by all means.’ As a result, the local council unanimously voted for a resolution stating that it was against the project and that if the permit was granted by the authorities, it would take legal steps to stop the mine reclamation.

Despite the position of the local government, the authorities permitted the mine reclamation in March.  The only thing the applicant changed, ‘after getting to know the needs of locals’ was that they would reduce the amount of material to be delivered in the first year from 300,000 cubic meters to 100,000 cubic meters and reduce the number of vehicles from 70 to 23 per day.

The mine recultivation has already started, and Stonemine Ltd. claims that they are only depositing clean waste from their other mines (stone and gravel), and definitely not contaminated construction waste.

Written by Zsuzsa Bodnár

English version by Flóra Garamvölgyi and Anita Kőműves. You can read the original, Hungarian-language stories here, here and here.

Cover image: the site of the mine under recultivation / Google Earth.