Hungary’s MAL Rt. is 15-year-old aluminum company created after communism ended in 1989

By Alison Mutler, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hungary’s MAL Rt. is 15-year-old aluminum company

BUCHAREST, Romania — MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminum Production and Trade Company, is a privately held company founded in 1995 as Hungary began to sell off state assets after the 1989 fall of communism.

It has three alumina facilities in Hungary that were acquired from the state, including the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant in the western town of Ajka where a waste reservoir burst Monday, spewing toxic red sludge across three villages. Four people were killed, 150 injured and three are still missing in the disaster.

The company mostly does business in Europe, with some 75 percent of its products exported to Western Europe. MAL Rt. owns or has shares in alumina companies in other Balkan countries including Bosnia, Slovenia, and Romania. It also has an office in Duesseldorf, Germany that promotes its products, according to its website.

The company insists on its website that red sludge is not considered toxic waste according to European Union safety standards and there was nothing it could have done differently to prevent the reservoir from failing. The firm called the disaster “a natural catastrophe.”

Red sludge is a waste product that results when bauxite is refined into alumina, the basic material for manufacturing aluminum. Treated sludge is often stored in ponds where the water eventually evaporates, leaving behind a dried red clay-like soil.

Heading its website is a message offering condolences to the victims and apologizing for “those who suffered damages or injury in any way.”

Martin Ruemmelein is the company’s CEO and the company is 100 percent Hungarian-owned, the website says. Its headquarters are in Ajka.

Police say they have confiscated some company documents after the spill.

Alumina plants are scattered around the world, with the 12 largest concentrated in Australia, Brazil and China. The plant in Hungary ranks 53rd in the world in production, according to industry statistics.

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