When a large dam holding back a massive reservoir of highly alkaline waste from a Hungarian aluminum plant burst on Monday, the red sludge tore through villages and killed several people before finding its way into local rivers that feed into the Danube. Three days later, as environmental workers poured vinegar into the goop in hopes of reducing its alkalinity, the stream of waste had reached the famed Danube River. Officials feared “an unprecedented ecological catastrophe,” but were breathing easier by Thursday. Although some streams were rendered basically sterile for the moment, the muck had been diluted before reaching the broad Danube, which diluted it even more, apparently minimizing downstream damage.

We can certainly hope that’s the case.

I noticed, in reading various news accounts of the breach, that every writer’s favorite term was “toxic sludge.” That has a certain ring to it – “toxic sludge.”

Lots of things have been labeled as toxic lately, ranging from the oily detritus washing ashore after the BP oil spill to the scads of worthless mortgages that sparked our current economic doldrums. We occasionally read of persons who die after consuming a toxic mix of alcohol and drugs. If we eat too much of the wrong things, we’ll have toxic sludge clogging up our arteries.

I’m reminded that physical things are not alone in becoming toxic threats. John Bradshaw and a few other authors/speakers have made a living by speaking to the subject of “toxic shame,” for example. Unresolved grief can be as toxic as guilt for those who refuse to deal with it. Unhealthy scripts that we absorb from others can be toxic — as can scripts we write for ourselves. Self-generated self-centeredness, I think, can be just as toxic as feelings of worthlessness engendered by dysfunctional authority figures.

What sort of toxic sludge threatens your life? Whether it’s material, emotional, or spiritual, poison doesn’t generally go away on its own. Perhaps this weekend can offer a time of reflection to identify thoughts or habits that contribute to physical, emotional, or spiritual pollution, and begin some cleanup efforts. It’s not fun work, but it’s important work.

Save your Danube!

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