History of Environmental Disasters

Animals covered in oil.

On April 20th, 2010, an oil well, Deepwater Horizon, in the Gulf Coast ruptured, sending crude oil gushing into the water. The disaster is en route to becoming the nation's worst spill, as millions of gallons of oil have already spilled into the Gulf, threatening wetlands, wildlife and tourism.

This disaster has brought attention to the massive damages humans have inflicted on nature throughout history. Here are a list of a few for your consideration:

  • Chernobyl: The worst nuclear power plant tragedy in history occurred in April of 1986 when one of the reactors at the Chernobyl power plant in the Ukraine exploded, sending massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. The cloud of radiation drifted across Soviet Russia and towards Europe, resulting in what scientists call “the biggest group of cancers ever from a single incident.” Almost 2,000 cases of thyroid cancer have resulted from the reactor explosion at the Ukrainian power station 15 years ago. Researchers predict that the number of cancers is sure to rise further in years to come.
  • Bhopal: Deemed the worst industrial disaster ever, an accident in December of 1984 at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India resulted in the escape of 45 tons of poisonous gas that kill 15,000 in all, and affected about half a million people. Survivors suffered blindness, organ failure, and other awful bodily malfunctions. And children born in the area suffer a range of birth defects.
  • Kuwaiti Oil Fires: When Saddam Hussein realized he’s lost the Persian Gulf War in 1991, he sent men to blow up the oil wells of Kuwait. About 600 were set ablaze, and remained on fire for over seven months. The environmental devastation included poisonous smoke, soot, and ash which produced black rain, and lakes of oil. Scores of livestock and other animals died.
  • Love Canal: In the 1940s and 50s, a local company buried 21,000 tons of toxic industrial waste. Over time, the town of Love Canal was built on top, but in 1978, when the waste began to bubble up into people’s backyards and cellars, there was no ignoring the problem any more. The federal government evacuated the area, and the disaster led to the formation of the Superfund program, which helps pay for the cleanup of toxic sites.
  • The Exxon Valdez: In March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil taker ran aground just off the coast of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. 10.8 million gallons of oil spewed into the cold waters, spreading almost 500 miles, and staining thousands of miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, seals, otters and other animals perished. The response mobilized more than 11,000 people and 1,000 boats as part of the clean up. The disaster is considered the largest man-made environmental disaster in U.S. history, though some fear that the Gulf of Mexico spill may surpass it in severity.
  • Tokaimura Nuclear Plant: Japan’s worst nuclear accident in September of 1999 resulted in the death of two and the exposure of hundreds to various levels of radiation.
  • The Aral Sea: Once the fourth-largest lake on Earth, the Aral Sea has fallen victim to Soviet irrigation project that started in the 196s and have diverted several of its source waterways. As a result, the Aral has shrunk by 90% and is now a massive desert that produces salt and sand storms that kill plant life and negatively effect human and animal health for hundreds of miles around.
  • Seveso Dioxin Cloud: The explosion at a chemical plant in northern Italy in 1976, released a cloud of poisonous gas that killed animals and caused nausea, blurred vision, especially among children, the disfiguring sores of a skin disease known as cloracne. The town was eventually evacuated, and today, a park sits above two giant tanks that hold the remains of hundreds of slaughtered animals, the destroyed factory, and the soil that received the largest doses of dioxin.
  • Minimata Disease: Industrial poisoning of Japan’s Minamata Bay led to Minamata disease, which first affected animals, particularly household cats, and in 1956, plagued its first human victim. The symptoms included convulsions, slurred speech, loss of motor functions, and uncontrollable limb movements. The release of large amounts of mercury and other heavy metals into the water found their way into the fish and shellfish that comprised a large part of the local diet. As a result, over the following decades, thousands of residents have slowly suffered and died from the disease.