Whether directly or indirectly, intentional or unintentional, through negligence or even with due diligence, humans are especially skillful at creating disasters, a truth that is quite evident throughout history. As follows are but some of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history.
Love Canal Toxic Landfill
During the 1940s, Hooker Chemical and Plastics Corporation used Love Canal, a sparsely populated area located in Niagara Falls New York, as a chemical dump site lining it with impermeable concrete. However, residential and school constructions in the 1950s resulted in many breaches of the protective lining, gradually seeping out toxic wastes into the soil polluting the groundwater and the air. Of the 240 buried chemicals that had been identified, eleven were suspected carcinogens, notably benzene, which can cause serious health problems. According to a report, the residents were stricken with a disturbingly high rate of miscarriages, birth defects, nervous disorders and cancers. Love Canal has become a testimony to one of the greatest human blunders and of the constant need for seeking environmentally safe ways of managing toxic waste.
Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
In 1986, one of the reactors of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded due to an experiment gone horribly wrong, reactor design defects and total disregard of safety measures. Considered to be the worst ever nuclear power accident, the explosion spewed out large amounts of radioactive particles that spread over parts of western former Soviet Union, Europe, and eastern North America. It caused major economic losses and raised serious environmental concerns that include the long-term effects of radiation exposure not only on peoples health but also on the regions agriculture, food consumption, aquatic systems, and flora and fauna. Birth deformities and respiratory-related deaths among the very young and the elderly have been estimated to be in the tens of thousands and are believed to be attributable to this particular event.
A dangerous chemical reaction occurred when water leaked into a storage tank of Union Carbide resulting in an explosion that released around 43 tons of methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic gas, contaminating the air and water of the city of Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in 1984. Primary causes of what can be regarded as one of the worst industrial environmental disasters on record included safety rules leniency and lack of equipment maintenance due to cost cutting measures. Around 20,000 have died due to exposure in the next 20 years since the tragedy; and still more than 100,000 are being poisoned and suffering from debilitating diseases today due to inadequate cleanup.
Prestige Oil Spill
Prestige was the name of a Greek-run, single-hulled oil tanker that did not live up to its name. In 2002, the tankers seaworthiness was so severely compromised by bad weather that the captain sought to dock at nearby harbors. But the Spanish, French and Portuguese government refused to allow its entry into their ports for fear of contamination of their coastlines. The ship eventually split in two and sank off the Galician coast gradually spilling 74,000 tons of heavy fuel oil into the sea. More than half of the 1,000 beaches along Spanish and French Atlantic coast were affected; about 100,000 birds died particularly the Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin; and coral reefs, many species of sharks and other marine life are still slowly being poisoned. The spill is the largest environmental disaster in the history of Europe.
Baia Mare Cyanide Disaster
Gold cyanidation is a very common metallurgical process that uses cyanide, a highly poisonous substance, for extracting gold from mineral ores. This highly controversial method enables miners to remove the last remnants of gold and silver from discarded mine tailings. In 2000, a rupture from a defective tailings dam of a gold mining operation of the Australian-Romanian joint venture AURUL in Baia Mare, Romania, sent tons of heavy metal wastes and around 120,000 cubic meters of water saturated with cyanide into the Somes, Tisza and Danube rivers resulting in massive devastation of aquatic life, especially in neighboring Hungary and Serbia. Thanks to speedy response of the Romanian authorities, no casualties were reported except for a few children who were hospitalized for eating fishes from affected rivers. Shortly after the accident, cyanide levels were found to be 700 times and 300 times above pollution standards in nearby river water and in Hungary, respectively. Copper and zinc concentrations exceeded the pollution threshold many times as well.
Southern Leyte Mudslide
In February 2006, a deadly rockslide-debris avalanche befell my fellow Filipino compatriots in Southern Leyte province of the Philippines following more than a week long heavy rains and a minor earthquake measuring 2.6 on the Richter scale causing widespread destruction and loss of life. Loose rock and soil debris buried the mountain village of Guinsaugon in the town of Saint Bernard including an entire elementary school of around 250 students in session. Around 200 had been confirmed dead but more than 1,500 are still missing to this day. Deforestation of the area by illegal loggers and extensive mining in the area three decades earlier had taken its toll, and together with the heavy rains and earthquake created the perfect combination for such a disaster to happen. Indeed, this was a very disturbing result of irresponsible exploitation of the earths natural resources.
Between 1961 and 1971, during the Vietnam Conflict, the United States military under its Herbicidal Warfare Program sprayed more than 10 million gallons of Agent Orange, a potent defoliant and herbicide containing dioxin, over large areas of South Vietnam to destroy forests and crops that provided cover for Viet Cong guerrillas. Dioxin exposure, whether directly or indirectly through ingestion of food grown on affected soil, has been linked to a variety of cancers, blood and nerve disorders. Increased occurrence of birth defects, infant death, mental retardation and childhood cancers in the area have been noted. This herbicide is still causing indescribable sufferings to war veterans and civilians more than 3 decades after the conclusion of Vietnam War.
Landmines are devices designed to explode in the presence or contact of any moving object. There are around 100 million of these explosive devices entrenched into the ground during conflicts all over the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. They are not only murderers and maimers of innocent civilians long after conflicts have ceased; they have also contributed to the destruction of wildlife, resulting in disruption to a regions ecological balance. Due to fear, arable lands are left untilled, depriving people of livelihood. In time, their corrosion and possible leakage of heavy metals and toxic substances will pollute rivers and degrade soil.
Global Warming is one issue that has raised much concern today. There is no longer any question about whos to blame for our current predicament. There is mounting evidence that human carelessness toward nature have resulted in the increase of the Earths average temperature due to steadily rising concentration of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, since the Industrial Revolution took effect in the late eighteenth century. Not only that, global warming has dreadful consequences, which have become more apparent in recent years; they include rapidly melting polar ice caps that cause sea levels to rise; increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (floods, droughts, super typhoons, etc); mass specie extinctions; and widespread epidemics, among others. Although not all these events can be directly traced to global warming, but many scientists are convinced that they will become more frequent, should the worlds temperature continue to increase.