- The Bhopal disaster of 1984 has been called the worst industrial accident in history.
- The Gulf War oil spill in 1991 was the largest oil spill.
- The Camp Fire of 2018 was California’s deadliest wildfire.
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Unfortunately, accidents happen. Oil spills, poisonous-gas leaks, and out-of-control wildfires have caused devastating damage to the environment and those who live in it.
Here are nine environmental disasters from the past 50 years that wreaked havoc on humans, animals, and the environment.
Seveso disaster — 1976
A cloud containing a kilogram of TCDD, a carcinogenic byproduct of the trichlorophenol used to produce hand soaps, leaked from a chemical plant in Meda, Italy, in 1976, settling over the towns of Meda and Seveso.
Over 700 people were evacuated and 77,000 animals were killed as a precaution to prevent chemicals from poisoning the food chain. Many children in the area developed chloracne, a skin condition caused by overexposure to halogenated aromatic compounds often reported by military veterans.
Love Canal — 1978
From 1942 to 1953, the Hooker Chemical Co. used a canal in Love Canal, New York, to dispose of 21,000 tons of toxic chemical waste. In 1978, The New York Times reported that chemicals from the canal had leaked into people’s homes, yards, and school playgrounds after years of heavy rainy seasons created toxic puddles.
President Jimmy Carter declared a state of emergency that same year, relocated 239 families, and declared a second state of emergency in 1981 to evacuate the rest of Love Canal’s residents, who had been experiencing high rates of miscarriage, birth defects, and diseases such as epilepsy, asthma, migraines, and nephrosis.
Bhopal gas leak — 1984
The Bhopal disaster has been called the worst industrial accident in history. In 1984, 45 tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked from an insecticide plant in Bhopal, India. Thousands of people died immediately. A total of between 15,000 and 20,000 people died, and a half million people survived with respiratory and eye problems.
Chernobyl disaster — 1986
On April 26, 1986, a nuclear reactor in the town of Chernobyl, Ukraine, blew up, leaving nuclear remnants that affected people in a 200-mile radius for decades to come, Business Insider previously reported. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster forced 350,000 people to be evacuated over fears of radiation poisoning. It’s still considered one of the worst nuclear-reactor disaster in history.
Exxon Valdez oil spill — 1989
According to the National Park Service, 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon died because of pollution from the spill.
Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act in 1990 outlining procedures for responding to similar disasters.
Asbestos in Libby, Montana — 1990
Since 1919, 400 people have died and almost 3,000 have become sick because of toxic asbestos dust from vermiculite mining in Libby, Montana. The mining company W.R. Grace and Co. had also distributed vermiculite, often used as insulation for the construction of buildings, around playgrounds and backyards in Libby.
The mine was shut down in 1990, and the EPA declared a public health emergency in 2008. Cleaning up the tainted vermiculite required deconstructing homes, businesses, and other buildings.
Gulf War oil spill — 1991
The Gulf War oil spill was the largest oil spill. Between 5 and 10 million barrels of oil spilled into the Persian Gulf, killing 30,000 birds and reducing the breeding success of some species by half, according to CNN.
Jilin chemical plant explosions — 2005
Six people died, 70 were injured, and tens of thousands had to be evacuated when explosions at a petrochemical plant rocked through Jilin, China.
Chemicals seeped into China’s Songhua River, then into the Amur River at the China-Russia border, where benzene levels were measured at 108 times as high as standard safety levels, and eventually into the Pacific Ocean.
A blockage in one of the plant’s nitration towers caused the explosions, according to World Atlas.
The Camp Fire — 2018
- REUTERS/Stephen Lam
The Camp Fire of 2018 was California’s deadliest wildfire. Eighty-five people died and 19,000 buildings were destroyed, according to The New York Times. The town of Paradise was incinerated.
The cause of the fire was found to be power lines owned by Pacific Gas & Electric.
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