this page shows some of the world environmental disasters as well as environmental pollution: Every one of us is much concerned with what is taking place around the world, it touches every single living organism in one way or another: these disasters that occurs or pollution that every single human does every day in one way or another is grabbing our future from our hands without knowing ourselves . Imagine in every single day around the world millions of trees are cut down by man.Imagine how a man is working hard day to day destroying our beautiful sky by introducing harmful gases into the sky through burning forests,smoke from cars and smokes from industries, Gas leak n.k. Everyday lakes and oceans loses its biodiversity through water Pollution by Oil Leakage in the Ocean something which is under our control : The survival of our environment is the survival of our lives, just like how everyone is much care about protecting hr/his life let it be the same about protecting our world. Your World Your life, together we can keep our world a safe place!! it Begins with You.
I may not be able to reach every one around the world and tell what i feel or how much am concerned about ENVIRONMENTS but by blogging I may reach where my THOUGHTS wants to reach.I wish I could be able to reach and tell every one in the World about this.But through this blog am knocking at your door.I have tried to collect from various sources some of the world disasters and environmental pollution just to remind everyone of you where we are taking our World and how unknowing we Surrender our future into unsafe Hands! Get involved in saving our world by stopping environmental pollution or even by just telling your friend HOW MUCH WORTH PROTECTING OUR PLANET EARTH! Wish you could join this war."
Note: The division in the top 10 is dependent upon death toll, injuries, (lasting) damage and media exposure of the environmental disasters in question. It does not imply that one specific disaster is worse than another.
Anthropogenic environmental disasters1. Bhopal: the Union Carbide gas leak
2. Chernobyl: Russian nuclear power plant explosion
3. Seveso: Italian dioxin crisis
4. The 1952 London smog disaster
5. Major oil spills of the 20th and 21st century
6. The Love Canal chemical waste dump
7. The Baia Mare cyanide spill
8. The European BSE crisis
9. Spanish waste water spill
10. The Three Mile Island near nuclear disaster
1. Bhopal: the Union Carbide gas leak
December 3, 1984 has become a memorable day for the city of Bhopal in Madya Pradesh county, India. Shortly after midnight, a poisonous gas cloud escaped from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide factory. The cloud contained 15 metric tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), covering an area of more than 30 square miles. The gas leak killed at least 4.000 local residents instantly and caused health problems such as oedema for at least 50.000 to perhaps 500.000 people. These health problems killed around 15.000 more victims in the years that followed. Approximately 100.000 people still suffer from chronic disease consequential to gas exposure, today. Research conducted by the BBC in 2004 pointed out that this pollution still causes people to fall ill, and ten more die every year. This event is now known as the worst industrial environmental disaster to ever have occurred.
(Note that the numbers of victims are not absolute, as they are different for every organization that describes the accident in books or on their websites. Particularly the Union Carbide company states a much lower total number of victims.)
The cause of the accident has been researched after the disaster. Apparently water ended up in MIC storage tanks, causing an exothermal reaction that released an amount of poisonous gas large enough to open the safety valves. Normally scrubbers would intercept escaping gas, but these were temporarily out of order for repair.
Research showed that factory personnel neglected a number of safety procedures. There were no valves to prevent water from entering the storage tanks. The cooling installation of the tanks and the flaring installation that might have flared the gas that was released were out of order (fig. 1).
Safety was very low in this factory of Union Carbide, compared to its other locations. The safety procedures were neglected because of budget cuts.
Figure 1: overview of events that led to the Bhopal disaster (Bhopal Medical Appeal, 2002)
Union Carbide was accused of deliberate evasion of regular safety procedures. During lawsuits where victims demanded compensation, documents were revealed which proved that Union Carbide regularly used untested technology in the Bhopal factory. When the gas leak occurred doctors were not informed of the nature of the gas. This caused the correct treatment and emergency measures to be held off.
The manager of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, was accused of culpable homicide. However, he did not occur in court and both the Indian and American government did not take adequate measures to make sure this man was tried. This led to a series of protests organized by environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace.
Union Carbide denied responsibility for the accident on their website, stating that: “The Bhopal plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India, Limited (UCIL), an Indian company in which Union Carbide Corporation held just over half the stock. The other stockholders included Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India. The plant was designed, built, and managed by UCIL using Indian consultants and workers.”
About the cause of the accident, they claimed that: “A thorough investigation was conducted by the engineering consulting firm Arthur D. Little. Its conclusion: the gas leak could only have been caused by deliberate sabotage. Someone purposely put water in the gas storage tank, causing a massive chemical reaction. Process safety systems had been put in place that would have kept the water from entering into the tank by accident.”
After a long procedure in February 1989 eventually a settlement was achieved. Union Carbide promised to pay 470 million dollars compensation. Only a very small part of this compensation was paid to survivors of the environmental disaster. Union Carbide states on its website that it paid the full settlement to the Indian government within 10 days time. In 2004 the Supreme Court forced the Indian government to pay the remaining 330 million dollars compensation to the victims and their families.
Union Carbide sold the Indian factory to a battery producer. In 2001 Dow Chemical Company took control of Union Carbide. These take-overs led to a discussion on responsibility for cleaning up the tons of poisonous waste that are still present in the environment consequential to the 1984 disaster. Environmental activists are trying to convince Dow Chemical Company to clean up this potential minefield of toxic chemicals. These could cause nervous system failure, liver and kidney disease and possibly cancer for many years to come.
Today, the location is still polluted with thousands of tons of toxic chemicals, such as hexachlorobenzene and mercury. These chemicals are stored in open barrels. Rainfall causes rinsing out of pollution to local drinking water sources. According to BBC research, some wells even contain up to 500 times the legal limit of these toxins. Local residents still suffer from a number of diseases, which appear to be very uncommon among people that do not live in the disaster area.
2. Chernobyl: Russian nuclear power plant explosion
On April 26, 1986 tests were conducted in nuclear reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, located 80 miles from Kiev. These tests required part of the security system to be shut down. Errors in the reactor design and errors in judgment of the personnel of the power plant caused cooling water to start boiling. This caused reactor stress, resulting in energy production increases to ten times the normal level. Temperatures reached more than 2000 °C, causing fuel rod melting and further cooling water boiling.
Extreme pressures in cooling water pipes resulted in cracks, which caused steam to escape. At 1:23h in the middle of the night the escaped steam caused an explosion slamming off the roof of the building, starting a major fire and simultaneously forming an atmospheric cloud containing approximately 185 to 250 million curies of radioactive material.
Fire and explosion instantly killed 31 people. Two days after the explosion, the Swedish national radio reported that 10.000 times the normal amount of cesium-137 existed in the atmosphere, prompting Moscow to officially respond. The following day over 135.000 people were evacuated from within an 30 km radius of the accident. This area was labelled the 'special zone'. The evacuation of the special zone was permanent, as the high levels of radioactivity have been predicted to exist for several centuries.
The radioactive cloud was blown north and northwest by wind, causing the first mention of the accident to be after radioactivity measurements in Sweden. The cloud covered a large area in Europe. On May 2, the cloud even reached the Netherlands, causing fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to be prohibited.
There are many estimates concerning the number of victims that suffer from symptoms induced by radiation. Reliable data is still lacking. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that approximately 800.000 people have worked on fire extinguishing, restoring the reactor and cleaning up pollution in the first year after the accident. These people only remained in the area for short periods of time to prevent health problems. Ukrainian government figures show that more than 8.000 Ukrainians have died as a result of exposure to radiation during the first cleanup operation. It is stated that the eventual death toll resulting from the nuclear explosion ranges from 30 to 300.000 and many unofficial sources put the toll over 400.000.
The people that have lived in the Chernobyl area during the accident suffer from various health problems. Immediately following the accident, hundreds of people were diagnosed with radiation sickness. Particularly in Belarus, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of thyroid cancers (2.400%) and leukaemia (100%).
Children of Chernobyl victims suffer from birth defects (250% increase), causing cancer and heart diseases. Approximately 64% of all Ukrainian children under 15 suffering from cancer lived in the most contaminated areas. Genetic defects often result in mutations causing missing limbs (see picture).
The extraordinary increase in the number of these illnesses can be associated with the exposure of the population to the aggressive radioactive particles released by the Chernobyl explosion. Four dangerous substances were released, which are not identified as such by our bodies:
- Plutonium is recognized as iron by the body and distributed by the blood system. It causes cancers and blood disorders. It has a half-life of 24.400 years and will be present in a 30 km radius around the Chernobyl site for many centuries to come
- Cesium 137 is mistaken for potassium and in absorbed by the muscles
- Iodine 131 is not recognized as a radioactive substance and is therefore absorbed by the thyroid gland. It causes thyroid cancer, particularly in children between 0 and 18 years old. An operation can save the children, but a scar known as the 'Belarussian Necklace' marks them as Chernobyl victims forever
- Strontium 90 is recognized by the body as calcium and causes leukaemia upon distribution throughout the bone structure
Governments in the region estimate that up to seven million people were affected by the accident. Four years after the accident, 627.000 Soviets were already under permanent observation for symptoms and effects of radiation poisoning. The number of individuals that will ultimately be affected by the Chernobyl disaster has been estimated as high as 11 times that of the cancer deaths expected from the combined 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today it is believed that over 4 million people in the Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia still live on contaminated ground.
All Chernobyl-related health effects and the fear of death from radiation have resulted in mental defects in many children. Suicide rates have increased 1.000% in the area.
After the explosion reactor 4 was wrapped in a concrete sarcophagus (see picture) in November 1986 to protect the area. After some time the other three reactors where running again. In 1989 the construction of a 5th and 6th reactor was abandoned. There was some discussion going on about the safety of the sarcophagus of reactor 4. On the long run this would not be a very solid construction and according to many it must be replaced. We now know that this replacement must be carried out soon, because the reactor has begun to leak radiation. Holes and fissures in the structure now cover 1.000 square metres. These cracks and holes are futher exacerbated by the intense heat inside the reactor, which is still over 200 degrees Celsius.
The replacement of the sarcophagus is a very costly operation and is therefore still under discussion. It is also very uncertain if there is even a construction method that would guarantee permanent protection from the large bulk of radiation still present in the remains of reactor 4.
After the Chernobyl disaster international organizations pressured the Ukrainian government to close the remaining reactors. This was disadvantageous for the country, because it derived 5% of its power supply from the power plant. Eventually, it was decided that the power plant would be closed in winter of the year 2000. The Ukrainian government tried to obtain a postponement, but the reactor was nevertheless closed in December 2000.
Dangerous chemicals emitted by the nuclear power plant after the explosion continue to spread by bush fires and weather conditions, re-contaminating soil, air and water. New radiation hot spots are still being discovered today in Belarus and Ukraine and evacuations will need to continue well into the 21st century. Plans have now been made to build a 20.000 ton steel shell to replace the failed sarcophagus around reactor 4. If construction is successful, this will be ready by 2007.
3. Seveso: Italian dioxin crisis
On midday of July 10, 1976 an explosion occurred in a TCP (2,4,5-trichlorophenol) reactor in the ICMESA chemical company in Meda, Italy. A toxic cloud escaped into the atmosphere containing high concentrations of TCDD, a highly toxic form of dioxin. Downwind from the factory the dioxin cloud polluted a densely populated area of six kilometres long and one kilometre wide, immediately killing many animals. A neighbouring municipality that was highly affected is called Seveso. The accident was named after this village. The dioxin cloud affected a total of 11 communities.
The media now mentions Seveso in line with major disasters such as Bhopal and Chernobyl, which have both become international symbols of industrially related disease. However, the Seveso story is remarkably different when it comes to handling the pollution and the victims because earlier accidents had shown dioxin to be an extremely dangerous substance. Polluted areas were researched and the most severely polluted soils were excavated and treated elsewhere. Health effects were immediately recognized as a consequence of the disaster and victims were compensated. A long-term plan of health monitoring has been put into operation. Seveso victims suffered from a directly visible symptom known as chloracne (see picture), but also from genetic impairments.
The Seveso accident and the immediate reaction of authorities led to the introduction of European regulation for the prevention and control of heavy accidents involving toxic substances. This regulation is now known as the Seveso Directive. This Directive was a central guideline for European countries for managing industrial safety.
The most remarkable feature of the Seveso accident was that local and regional authorities had no idea the plant was a source of risk. The factory existed for more than 30 years and the public had no idea of the possibility of an accident as it occurred in 1976. The European Directive was created to prevent such ignorance in the future and to enhance industrial safety. The Council of Ministers of The European Committee adopted the Directive in 1982. It obligates appropriate safety measures, and also public information on major industrial hazards, which is now known as the ‘need to know’ principle.
"Direr visions, worse foreboding
Glare upon me through the gloom
Britain's smoke-cloud sinks corroding
On the land in noisome fume
Smilches all its tender bloom
All its gracious verdure ashes
Sweeping low with breath of bane
Steeling sunlight from the plain
Showering down like rain of ashes." Henrik Ibsen, Norway, 1866
December 1952 brought an episode of heavy smog to London, which lasted until March 1953. Light winds and a high moisture content created ideal conditions for smog formation. The unusual cold in London in the winter of 1952-1953 caused additional coal combustion and many people travelled only by car, which caused the occurrence of a combination of black soot, sticky particles of tar and gaseous sulphur dioxide. This resulted in the heaviest winter smog episode known to men.
Measurements suggested that the concentration of particulate matter in the air had reached 56 times its normal level. Sulphur dioxide concentrations increased to seven times its peak level. The smoke particles trapped in the fog gave it a yellow-black colour. Sulphur dioxide reacted with substances in foggy droplets to form sulphuric acid, adding an intense form of acid rain to the process.
By night of December 5 the smog was so dense that visibility dropped to only a few meters. Smog easily entered buildings, causing cinemas, theatres and stores to be closed. Transport became largely impossible. Motor vehicles were abandoned, trains were disrupted and airports were also closed.
The smog episode killed approximately 12.000 people, mainly children, elderly people and people suffering from chronic respiratory or cardiac disease. The number of deaths during the smog disaster was three or four times that on a normal day. They could be attributed to lung disease, tuberculosis and heart failure. Mortality from bronchitis and pneumonia increased more than sevenfold.
Peaks of smoke and sulphur dioxide were in line with peaks in deaths. However, most deaths occurred because of breathing in acid aerosols, which irritates or inflames the bronchial tubes. Acidity was not measured, but estimates show that the pH probably fell to 2 during the peaks in the smog episode.
The highest death rate during the smog episode occurred on December 8 and December 9, at 900 deaths per day. In some parts of the city death rates even increase to nine times the normal number. Until spring the death rate remained high at almost a thousand more deaths per week than expected in a normal winter.
This heavy pollution and its resulting death toll made people aware of the seriousness of air pollution. The London smog disaster resulted in the introduction of the first Clean Air Acts in 1956.
5. Major oil spills of the 20th and 21st century
At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century there have been oil spills all over the world, caused either by naval accidents or during major wars. It is impossible to determine which of these oil spills had the most severe consequences for its environment. Consequently, we will sum up a number of oil spills in this environmental disaster top 10. First, we will describe some events that obtained a lot of media attention.
In 1978 on March 16 the Liberian super tanker Amoco Cadiz stranded on Portsall Rocks off the coast of Brittany, France because of failure of the steering mechanism at 9:15. Although Captain Pasquale Bandari hoisted the international signal for "Not Under Command" almost immediately, he did not request assistance until 11:20, when his engineer determined that the damage was irreparable. The Amoco Cadiz started drifting to shore where touching the bottom ripped open the hull and storage tanks.
The crew of the tanker was rescued by helicopter, but the ship broke in two releasing 230.000 tons of crude oil, which spread through the English Channel. The oil spill polluted approximately 300 kilometres of coastline, destroying fisheries, oysters and seaweed beds. Beaches of 76 Breton communities were polluted by oil.
Cleanup efforts were restricted for two weeks following the accident, as a result of the isolated location of the grounding and rough seas. Severe weather eventually caused the complete break-up of the ship before any additional oil could be removed from the wreck.
This was one of the largest environmental disasters known to men in the 1970's. It would be another ten years before the resulting lawsuits were wound up. In 1988 a US federal judge ordered Amoco Oil Corporation to pay 85,2 million dollars in fines, consisting of 45 million dollars for the costs of the spill and an additional 39 million dollars of interest.
On July 6, 1988 an explosion occurred on the oil and gas production platform Piper Alpha of Occidental Petroleum Ltd. and Texaco in the North Sea. Piper Alpha was located on the Piper Oilfield, about 190 kilometres from Aberdeen in 144 metres of water. There were about 240 people working on the platform. The explosion and resulting fire killed 167 of them. It is now said that evacuation plans were inadequate and therefore failed preventing any of the deaths. By the time rescue helicopters arrived, flames over 100 metres in height prevented safe approach. Only 62 workers were pulled from the sea alive.
A nearby platform called Tartan continued to pump gas into the upstream pipelines of Piper Alpha after the explosion because they did not have the authority to shut down production, even when the Piper Alpha caught fire. The released gas caused a second explosion and the fire increased, covering the entire platform.
The personnel that had the authority to order evacuation of Piper Alpha had been killed during the first explosion, which destroyed the control room. It led to people still trying to get of the platform hours after the fire had started.
The Cullen Enquiry was set up in November 1988 to establish the cause of the disaster. It was pointed out that the initial explosion was caused by a leakage of natural gas condensate building up beneath the platform, because of maintenance work on a pump and a related safety valve. It resulted in the ignition of secondary oil fires and the melting of upstream gas pipelines. Piper Alpha's operator, Occidental, was found guilty of having inadequate maintenance procedures.
In 1989 the American oil tanker Exxon Valdez clashed with the Bligh Reef, causing a major oil leakage. The tanker had left the Valdez terminal in Alaska, navigating through Prince William Sound. Captain Joseph Hazelwood informed the coast guard they would change course to avoid collision with some small icebergs present in the region. The coast guard instructed the captain to sail north.
After Busby Island the tanker was supposed to turn back south, but it did not turn rapidly enough, causing the collision with the reef at 0:04 hours. This caused an oil spill of between 41.000 and 132.000 square meters, polluting 1900 km of coastline. The oil spill killed approximately 250.000 sea birds, 2.800 sea otters, 250 bald eagles and possibly 22 killer whales.
Exxon Mobil, the owner of the Exxon Valdez, has paid approximately 3,5 billion dollars in connection with the accident, of which 2,1 billion was meant for the cleanup operation. Both Exxon and the government have ordered investigations of the disaster, because of the large sums of money involved.
Ironically, official NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) investigations have shown that most of the damage from the oil spill was caused by the cleaning operation following the disaster. It is clamed that pressure-washing was responsible for killing most of the marine life. On stretches of beach that were uncleaned life seemed to recover after 18 months, whereas on the cleaned parts of the beach it did not recover for the next 3 to 4 years. Oil spill clean up is still performed because in the public’s opinion this is still the way to save most animals.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill had, and still has, a large deal of media attention. Many people still remember the spill today. However, Exxon Valdez did not cause the largest oil spill in human history. According to Bjorn Lomborg, it is not even in the top 10. A much larger disaster was caused for example during the Gulf War in 1991.
In August 1990 Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, starting the Gulf War in which an allegiance of 34 nations worldwide was involved. In January 1991 of the Gulf War, Iraqi forces committed two environmental disasters. The first was a major oil spill 16 kilometres off the shore of Kuwait by dumping oil from several tankers and opening the valves of an offshore terminal. The second was the setting fire to 650 oil wells in Kuwait.
The apparent strategic goal of the action was to prevent a potential landing by US Marines. American air strikes on January 26 destroyed pipelines to prevent further spillage into the Gulf. This however seemed to make little difference. Approximately one million tons of crude oil was already lost to the environment, making this the largest oil spill of human history. In the spring of 1991, as many as 500 oil wells were still burning and the last oil well was not extinguished until a few months later, in November.
The oil spills did considerable damage to life in the Persian Gulf (see picture). Several months after the spill, the poisoned waters killed 20.000 seabirds and had caused severe damage to local marine flora and fauna. The fires in the oil wells caused immense amounts of soot and toxic fumes to enter the atmosphere. This had great effects on the health of the local population and biota for several years. The pollution also had a possible impact on local weather patterns.
In the early hours of December 14, 2002 the Norwegian ship Tricolor collided with the Bahama container ship Kariba in the French Channel. The accident was caused by fog and human errors. The Kariba was heavily damaged, but managed to reach the Antwerp harbour. The crew of Tricolor was rescued by emergency teams, which experienced low visibility that made the rescue operation very hard. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
Despite warning signals on the location of the Tricolor the Nicola collided with the wreck on December 16. The Nicola could be safely removed from the scene but the Tricolor was now much more severely damaged. The ship was declared total loss and Berger Smit started to pump 2.200 tons of oil from the wreck.
In January 2003 the oil tanker Vicky collided with the Tricolor, causing some oil from the Vicky to flow into sea and reach French and Belgium shores. Fortunately damages were limited and the Tricolor did not leak any oil.
By the end of January even more extreme weather caused Berger Smit to collide with the Tricolor wreck, which started leaking oil. It became apparent that at least 1.000 tons of oil had leaked away into the Channel. The oil reached France and Belgium, causing thousands of dead seabirds to wash ashore.
After this third collision a confederation was ordered by the French government to remove the wreck to prevent further environmental damage. Eventually, the ship was broken into nine small pieces, heaved from the water and carried away.
At this moment the sea soil still contains hundreds of cars wreckages that were once transported by the Tricolor. The freight value was approximately 49 million euros. The ship has an additional value of 40 million euros.
There have been many other accidents involving oil spills throughout the years. Many received not nearly as much media attention as the ones mentioned above. Some more examples of oil spills:
- 1967 Liberian tanker Torrey Canyon spills 120.000 ton oil near Cornwall
- 1968 Witwater tanker spills 14.000 barrels of oil near Panama coast
- 1969 tanker Hamilton trader spills 4.000 barrels of oil in Liverpool Bay, England
- 1970 tanker Arrow spills 77.000 barrels of oil near Nova Scotia, Canada
- 1971 tanker Wafra spills 20.000 barrels of oil near Cape Agulhas, Africa
- 1972 tanker Sea Star catches fire after collision in Gulf of Mexico
- 1974 Dutch tanker Metulla spills 53.000 ton crude oil near South-Chilli
- 1976 Liberian tanker Argo Merchant spilled 29.000 square meters of oil near the Massachusetts coast
- 1976 Spanish tanker Urquillo spills more than 100.000 ton oil near Spain
- 1977 tanker Al Rawdatain spills 7.350 barrels of oil near Genoa, Italy
- 1977 tanker Borug spills 213.692 barrels of oil near the coast of Taiwan
- 1978 Brazilian Marina spills 73.600 barrels of oil near Sao Sebastiao, Brazil
- 1979 Betegeuse spills 14.720 barrels of oil near Bantry Bay, Ireland
- 1979 Ixtoc I exploratory well in Mexico blows out and spills 600.000 tons of oil
- 1984 Alvenus tanker grounds southeast of Cameron, Louisiana and spills 65.000 barrels of oil
- 1985 ARCO Anchorage spills 5.690 barrels of oil near the coast of Washington
- 1986 unknown oil spill reaches the coast of Georgia and is later appointed to the Amazon Vulture tanker
- 1989 Aragon tanker spills 175.000 barrels of oil near Madeira, Portugal
- 1990 tanker American Trader grounds near Huntington Beach, California and spills 9458 barrels of oil
- 1990 Cibro Savannah tanker catches fire and spills 481 square meters of oil
- 1990 Jupiter tanker catches fire in Bay City, Mexico and causes oil spill
- 1990 Mega Borg tanker catches fire and spills 19.000 square meters of oil near Galveston, Texas
- 1991 tanker Bahia Paraiso spills 3.774 barrels of oil near Palmer Station, Antarctica
- 1992 Greek tanker Aegean Sea spills 70.000 ton oil near Galicia
- 1993 Bouchard B155 tanker spills 1.270 square meters of fuel oil after collision with 2 ships
- 1996 Liberian tanker Sea Empress spills 147.000 ton oil near Wales
- 1999 Maltese tanker Erika spills 30.000 ton oil near Brittany
- 2001 tanker Jessica spills 900 ton oil near the Galapagos Isles
- 2002 Bahamese Prestige spills oil near Galicia
These are but a number of that have occurred throughout history. Unfortunately, there are many more.
6. The Love Canal chemical waste dump
In 1920 Hooker Chemical had turned an area in Niagara Falls into a municipal and chemical disposal site. In 1953 the site was filled and relatively modern methods were applied to cover it. A thick layer of impermeable red clay sealed the dump, preventing chemicals from leaking out of the landfill.
A city near the dumpsite wanted to buy it for urban expansion. Despite the warnings of Hooker the city eventually bought the site for the meagre amount of 1 dollar. Hooker could not sell for more, because they did not want to earn money off a project so clearly unwise. The city began to dig to develop a sewer, damaging the red clay cap that covered the dumpsite below. Blocks of homes and a school were built and the neighbourhood was named Love Canal.
Love Canal seemed like a regular neighbourhood. The only thing that distinguished this neighbourhood from other was the strange odours that often hung in the air and an unusual seepage noticed by inhabitants in their basements and yards. Children in the neighbourhood often fell ill. Love Canal families regularly experienced miscarriages and birth defects.
Lois Gibbs, an activist, noticed the high occurrence of illness and birth defects in the area and started documenting it. In 1978 newspapers revealed the existence of the chemical waste dump in the Love Canal area and Lois Gibbs started petitioning for closing the school. In August 1978, the claim succeeded and the NYS Health Department ordered closing of the school when a child suffered from chemical poisoning.
When Love Canal was researched over 130 pounds of the highly toxic carcinogenic TCDD, a form of dioxin, was discovered. The total of 20.000 tons of waste present in the landfill appeared to contain more than 248 different species of chemicals. The waste mainly consisted of pesticide residues and chemical weapons research refuse.
The chemicals had entered homes, sewers, yards and creeks and Gibbs decided it was time for the more than 900 families to be moved away from the location. Eventually President Carter provided funds to move all the families to a safer area. Hooker’s parent company was sued and settled for 20 million dollars.
Despite protests by Gibbs’s organization some of the houses in Love Canal went up for sale some 20 years later. The majority of the houses are on the market now and the neighbourhood may become inhabited again after 20 years of abandonment. The houses in Love Canal are hard to sell, despite a renaming of the neighbourhood. It suffered such a bad reputation after the incident that banks refused mortgages on the houses.
None of the chemicals have been removed from the dumpsite. It has been resealed and the surrounding area was cleaned and declared safe. Hooker’s mother company paid an additional 230 million dollars to finance this cleanup. They are now responsible for the management of the dumpsite. Today, the Love Canal dumpsite is known as one of the major environmental disasters of the century.
7. The Baia Mare cyanide spill
Workers in gold mines use cyanide (CN) to purify gold from rocks. This is applied for example in Rumania. At 22:00 hours on January 30, 2000 cyanide (fig. 2) used in a gold mine in Baia Mare overflowed into the major river the Somes and subsequently into the river Tisza. The cause of the spill was a break in the dam that surrounded a settling basin. This resulted in the release of at least 100.000 cubic meters of water with very high cyanide concentrations. The waste water did not only contain cyanide, but also heavy metals such as copper, zinc and lead. Copper concentrations exceeded the heavily polluted threshold 40-160 times, the zinc concentration was twice above this standard and the lead concentration 5-9 times greater.
Cyanide is a very aggressive toxin that can kill people. Consequently, when Rumanian authorities were notified of the spill they immediately raised the alarm. This rapid response prevented any human victims. However, the spill did kill all aquatic plant and animal life for dozens of miles downstream. On February 12 it even impacted the major European river Danube, which receives water from the Tisza. This caused the impact to be noticeable in Hungary and Serbia, as well. Inhabitants of Belgrado witnessed Danube water full of dead fish flowing by. Up to 100 people, most of them children, have been treated in hospital after eating contaminated fish. The Rumanian media entitled this environmental disaster ‘the largest since Chernobyl’.
Environmental organizations claim that large companies take advantage of the flexible environmental regulation in poorer countries such as Rumania. It is stated this results in the occurrence of environmental disasters such as that in Baia Mare. The major owner of the Baia Mare gold mine is an Australian called Brett. He commented the media coverage of the Baia Mare disaster, saying reports were utterly exaggerated. He denies the high rate of fish mortality in the area had anything to do with the gold mine.
In Serbia the minister of environment has announced he will sue the ones responsible for the spill. He demands an international trial. Fishery has been banned from the Tisza and the population was recommended not to use the water. This has caused many local residents to suffer from drinking water shortages and has caused some losses in the fishing industry.
8. The European BSE crisis
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), is a fatal cow disease. The disease is sometimes called ‘mad cow disease’ because it causes cows to act strangely and collapse on the spot (see picture). It is concentrated mainly in the cow's brain, spinal cord and certain organs such as the spleen.
BSE was caused by feeding cows with meat and bone meal, a high-protein substance obtained from butchered sheep and cows. This was applied in Europe because soybeans, the main ingredient of regular cow feed, was hard to obtain.
The accumulation of prions (proteinaceous infectious particles) over many generations caused animals to fall ill, increasing the infectious tissue concentration in newly produced meat. In Europe it was first discovered in British cattle in 1986. Contrarily to other European countries, in Britain it was not required for the animal feed to undergo a steam boiling process for sterilization. This gave the infectious agents a chance to spread. In 1996 the British mistake came to light and European countries banned the import of British cow meat, causing the British meat industry to suffer major losses.
The ban of British meat export appeared to have been implemented too late and consequently BSE started spreading throughout Europe (table 1). Many countries started to test its animals. When BSE was suspected on a farm transporting of animals and meat was banned. The animals were killed and their carcases burned. This may have caused air pollution, because cow incineration was carried out in open air without proper filtering on many occasions.
Table 1: year of discovery of first BSE cases by country
Many countries banned the use of meat and bone meal after the outbreak of BSE in Europe. However, in Germany meat and bone meal was still permitted in cow feed until 2000. This caused an aftermath of the epidemic in 2003.
BSE was not only harmful to cows; in 1996 it was discovered that a human equivalent of the fatal brain disease existed. The infection is known as Creutsfeldt Jacobs Disease (vCJD). Once infectious prions are activated, the disease runs its course within 12 to 18 months and ultimately results in death. Symptoms include depression, coordination problems, memory loss and mood swings, pain in the limbs, bad headaches, cold extremities, pain in the feet, rashes and short-term memory loss.
It is assumed that humans are affected with the BSE-related disease by consuming the organs and tissues from cattle in which the BSE-causing agents are present. Infection can only occur when consumption cows with BSE are 30 months old or older. Estimates state that 400.000 cattle infected with BSE entered the human food chain in the 1980s. The age of these cows prior to slaughter is unknown.
vCJD killed nearly 90 people in the UK by 2003. Deaths from the disease were also reported in France and Italy. In 2004 a total of 158 Europeans acquired or died from vCJD, most of which were Britains (148). It is now suspected that slaughtering practises and horticultural fertilization practices may also cause the human variant of BSE, but this is still researched.
Table 2: reported BSE cases in Europe by country
The incidences of BSE are relatively small in number, but the discovery of the disease had a dramatic effect on European beef consumption, which fell to 27%. In 2001 the European BSE epidemic ceased, having only an aftermath in Germany in 2003 (see above). Even after bringing the BSE epidemic under control people are still being diagnosed with its human variant each year, because of its long incubation period. The full extent of the outbreak may still be unknown.
9. Spanish waste water spill
On April 25, 1998 the dam of the mining residual tank of a pyrite mine in Aznalcollar, Spain suffered a rupture, releasing sludge and contaminated wastewater. The wastewater entered the Guadiamar River, polluting the river with heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, zinc and copper. It affected an area of 4.634 hectares, contaminating 2.703 hectares with sludge and 1.931 with acidic water.
The river pollution caused cultivation lands and forests to be affected. Harvests were no longer fit for consumption, causing financial problems for farmers in the area. Major fish mortality occurred and birds died as a result of consumption of polluted fish. It took one whole month for the river water to recover to its original state.
After the wastewater flow had entered the river a major cleanup operation started, including the installation of walls to prevent further spreading of contaminants and the removal of contaminated sludge. The pH values of the soil were restored by liming and arsenic was removed by adding iron oxyhydroxides, causing a precipitation reaction.
Company technicians stated that the rupture of the residual tank was caused by a deep landslide, which provoked the movement of a certain section of the wall. Authorities also researched the cause of the disaster. Apparently the dam was a weak construction and warnings of possible breakthrough were neglected. The Canadian/ Swedish corporation Boliden was held responsible for the wastewater spill. The company was sentenced to financing the cleanup operation and paying compensation to victims.
10. The Three Mile Island near nuclear disaster
At approximately 4:00 a.m. on March 28, 1979 the main feed water pumps in the non-nuclear cooling system of reactor 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania failed. This caused cooling water to drain away from the reactor resulting in partial melting of the reactor core. Operator errors, a stuck valve, faulty sensors and design errors together resulted in a release of approximately one thousandth as much radiation as during the Chernobyl explosion.
Fortunately about 18 billion curies of radiation that could have been released were held by the containment structure around the reactor. This caused some advocates to think that serious nuclear accidents will not occur in the United States. However, many experts have claimed that only luck kept the accident from being worse. The reactor core, according to them, was only just short of becoming hot enough to totally melt down. Complete melt-down was only prevented by immediate implementation of safety measures.
It is very uncertain how much radiation was exactly released at the nuclear accident. It is estimated that this was about 2,5 million curies. A few days after the accident had occurred all children and pregnant women were evacuated from an 8 km radius of Three Mile Island as a safety precaution.
Radiation from the Three Mile Island reactor has contributed to the premature deaths of some elderly people that lived in the region. Dairy farmers reported that many animals have died consequential to the accident and local residents have developed cancers. Some studies suggested that premature deaths and birth defects also resulted from the nuclear melt-down.
The reactor cleanup started in August 1979 and officially ended in December 1993 at a cost of around 975 million dollars. From 1985 to 1990 almost 100 tonnes of radioactive fuel were removed from the site. Reactor 2 had been online only three months, but now had a ruined reactor vessel and was unsafe to walk in, therefore it has been permanently closed. Reactor 1 was restarted in 1985, but many plans for building new reactors of the same type were dismissed later.
- Lomborg, B., The Skeptical Environmentalist - Measuring the Real State of the World. Cambridge University Press 1998, United Kingdom
- McKinney, M.L., Schoch, R.M., Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions, Third Edition Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury Massachusetts 2003
- Encyclopaedia: http://www.wikipedia.org
- Encyclopaedia: http://www.britannica.com
- Bhopal: http://www.unioncarbide.com/
- Bhopal: http://www.bhopal.com
- Chernobyl: http://www.chernobyl.co.uk/ and the Chernobyl Children's Project International: http://www.chernobyl-international.com/aboutchernobyl/disaster.asp
- London Smog: BBC news, London University
- NOAA Oil spill review, published in 2003 - http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/oilaids/spilldb.pdf
- Amoco Cadiz: http://greennature.com/article219.html
- BSE crisis: BBC, Asian Food Information Center
- Spain wastewater spill: Oceanographic Institute of Paris, Environmental Restoration of the Guadiamar River Basin Affected by the Accident at the mine in Aznalcollar, Spain. Paris, October 2002 -> http://www.le-cedre.fr/uk/publication/jourinfo02/esp.pdf
Read more: http://www.lenntech.com/environmental-disasters.htm#ixzz22JZ59yl2