River of Death
In the middle of the night he was seized with vomiting, and with purging of a fluid like water-gruel in vast quantities; when visited by medical men, he spoke in a husky whisper, his nails were blue, his skin livid, covered by cold sweat, his limbs cramped. The spasms ceased about nine o’clock on Monday morning; about noon he asked to be raised in bed, and died as they were raising him. Description of the death of an English shoemaker in 1836 by cholera, quoted by Robinson Yost of Kirkwood Community College.
The thick, red waves of toxic sludge pushed their way out of the metals plant reservoir in Hungary yesterday and crashed through the homes of nearby Hungarian residents, only a few hundred kilometers from where Pauline lived. Already every living thing in the Marcal River, which the slurry infiltrated yesterday, has been killed.
Government officials have been working furiously to stop its flow into the second largest river in Europe, the Danube, to no avail (it entered the river today), all the while attempting to assure the public that there is little risk to the countries downstream that depend on the Danube for their water supply – including Serbia and Croatia.
In 1836 and again in 1849 when hundreds of thousands of people in the same area began to die, no one understood the link between the drinking water and the deaths. The cholera epidemics reminded people of the Bubonic Plague four centuries earlier; both wiped out 25-30% of the entire population.
The first to die in Alzbeta (Suster) and Jan Imrek’s family was 9 year old Ondrej, soon followed by sisters Juliana (19) and Katerina (17). Of their 8 children, only 1 survived to adulthood, Zuzana (another daughter died at the age of 9 a few years later, and three sons died as infants). I suspect their water supply was contaminated, either through unsanitary conditions or from a hazardous source. Fortunately, it appears that no other Suster family members died during the 1849 epidemic.
Treatment at the time included blood-letting, laudanum (opium treatments) and saline solutions, all futile. No link had yet been made between bacteria in the water and the illness, and to this day, no vaccine is available, and the only prevention or cure is hydration with clean water.
The disease hit Slovaks incredibly hard. In the village of Pazova for example, 486 Slovaks died, but not one Serbian. People began to suspect that the government was poisoning them, and this enraged the peasants (it turns out the two groups, living in separate sections of town, had different water supplies). Civil unrest had reached a boiling point in 1848/49, and these deaths only fueled the anger of the various ethnic minorities that had been exiled to the plains along the Danube.
In the latter half of the 18th century, when the link between polluted water and cholera was made, extensive efforts were made to upgrade the water system. The current toxic sludge contamination has been called one of the worst environmental disasters of the last 30 years in Europe, and vinegar of all things is being poured into the Danube to lower the water’s pH level (which is at an all time high of 13 on a scale of 0 to 14). Lets hope the vinegar helps prevent another tragedy of epic proportions along Pauline’s beloved Danube.