25 Biggest Man Made Environmental Disasters In History

Posted by on June 7, 2013

Our environment has been the victim of all sorts of attacks.  Some of these attacks are natural such as hurricanes and earthquakes.  However, there are attacks that are unnatural and man made such as wars, explosions, chemical spills, etc.  These attacks usually carry with them heavy price tags as property and lives are damaged beyond full compensation and repair. To see these effects first hand (or as close to first hand as possible) we present to you our 25 biggest environmental disasters in history list for your personal edification.


TVA Kingston Fossil Plant Coal Fly Ash Slurry Spill

It’s a pretty crazy name huh? It’s real though. In an 84 acre solid waste containment area, an ash dike ruptured in the early hours of December 22, 2008. This fossil plant in Roane County, Tennessee held 1.1 billion gallons of coal fly ash slurry which was expelled causing a mudflow wave. Although there were no reported fatalities or injuries (thank goodness), it damaged several properties and government facilities.


The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

On March 24, 1989, 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled in Prince William Sounds, Alaska by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez after it ran into Bligh Reef. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human caused environmental disasters with both the long-term and short-term effects of the oil spill having been studied. Immediate effects included the deaths of 100,000 to as many as 250,000 seabirds, at least 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 Bald Eagles, and 22 Orcas, and an unknown number of salmon and herring.


Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch

Another example of the negative effects of human waste; the Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch  is a gyre of marine debris in the central North Pacific Ocean.  This patch which is characterized by high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris formed gradually as a result of the marine pollution gathered by oceanic currents.


Jilin Chemical Plant Explosions

The Jilin chemical plant explosions were a series of explosions which occurred on November 13, 2005 in the No.101 Petro chemical plant in Jilin City, Jilin Province, China. These explosions were responsible for the deaths of six workers and injured dozens causing the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.  To add insult to injury, these explosions severely polluted the Songhua River with an estimated 100 tons of pollutants containing benzene and nitrobenzene whose exposure reduces white blood cell count and is linked to leukemia.


Castle Bravo

The code name Castle Bravo was given to the first United States test of a dry fuel thermonuclear hydrogen bomb. The bomb was detonated on Bikini Atoll, Marshall Isalnds on March 1, 1954, as the first test of Operation Castle and was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States at that time. This test lead to the most significant accidental radiological contamination ever caused by the United States.


The Three Mile Island Nuclear Explosion

The three mile island accident was a partial nuclear meltdown which occurred in one of the two United States nuclear reactors on March 28, 1979 .  Located on the three mile island in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania;  it was the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history with the partial meltdown resulting in the release of small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment.


The Kuwait Oil Fires

Around 6 million barrels of oil were lost from January to November, 1991. 600 oil wells were set afire as part of the scorched earth policy by the retreating Iraqi military forces. $1.5 billion was spent by Kuwait to extinguish the fires that caused heavy pollution to the soil and air.


“Door to Hell”

In Derweze, Turkmenistan, a drilling rig made by Soviet geologists in 1971 gave way to a large hole measuring 70 meters in diameter, exposing a large methane gas reservoir. Fearing the environmental impact due to the substantial methane gas release; the geologists decided to burn it off.  Unfortunately, the gas is still burning today.


The Palomares Incident

The crash of the B-52G bomber of the USAF Strategic Air Command on January 17, 1966 led to the plutonium contamination of Palomares, a small village in the municipality of Cuevas del Almanzora, Almería, Spain. The jet powered strategic bomber carried non nuclear explosives that detonated causing political conflict between the US and Spain. 40 years later, traces of the blasts are still evident.


Sidoarjo Mud Flow

Sidoarjo (the largest mud volcano in the world) also known as the Lapindo mud, exists today because of gas blowout wells drilled by PT Lapindo Branta.  Branta denies this however and claims that the mud flows were created by an earthquake. 180,000 m³ of mud per day is spewed at its peak and has been in eruption since May, 2006.


Libby, Montana Asbestos Contamination

Vermiculite mines in Libby, Montana gave the local residents jobs and helped the local economy.  However, due to the mine’s high use of Asbestos the residents suffered related disorders such as mesothelioma. Because of mine activities that started back in 1919, residents continue to suffer until today.


Deep water horizon (BP) oil spill

The deep water horizon oil spill (also referred to as the BP oil Spill) in the Gulf of Mexico is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.  The oil spill was a direct result of the explosion and sinking of the deepwater horizon oil rig which claimed 11 lives.  Total oil wasted is estimated at 4.9 million barrels.


Amoco Cadiz

A huge crude carrier bearing the flag of Liberia split into three parts and sank, releasing 1,604,500 barrels (219,797 tons) of light crude oil and 4,000 tons of fuel oil making it the largest oil spill of its kind at that time and resulted in the largest loss of marine life ever recorded from an oil spill.


Eccocide in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, destruction of the farmland and rice paddies that fed the enemy was promulgated by the American military strategists. Other than these areas which were the source of food and livelihood of the Vietnamese folk, the jungle along with its flora and fauna was also devastated.


The Al-Mishraq Fire

Al-Mishraq is a state run sulfur plant near Mosul, Iraq which in June 2003 was the site of the largest human-made release of sulfur dioxide ever recorded.  A fire thought to have been deliberately started burned for almost a month spewing 21,000 tonnes of sulfur dioxide a day into the atmosphere.