8 Worst Man-made Environmental Disasters of All Time

5. Exxon Valdez

Image: wikimedia

March 24, 1989. The tanker Exxon Valdez, captained by the now infamous Joseph Hazelwood, ran aground on Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef, spilling more than 10.8 million US gallons (40.9 million liters) of crude oil into the sensitive natural coastline. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 26,000 gallons of Valdez oil remains adhered to the rocks and soils of the spill site. The Exxon Valdez still plies the waters of Asia as an ore ship under the name Dong Fang Ocean.

Lessons learned from this ecological disaster include the development of bird-washing machines and the implementation of a European law banning single-hull ships from European ports. Because of the global nature of the shipping industry, this regulation has driven companies worldwide to adopt the new double-hull technology.

6. Love Canal

Image: Love Canal Reunion, Facebook

A witch's brew with over 80 toxins--21,000 tons of waste--burbled beneath a housing project in Niagara Falls, New York. Former residents remember exploding rocks and blue goo in the ooze that bubbled up into many basements. The name Love Canal derives from the abandoned canal which developer William Love envisioned as a source of hydroelectric power in the late 19th century but never brought to fruition. The abandoned half-dug ditch was conveniently converted to a waste dump. The tragedy started when the city bought the land from Hooker Chemical for the grand sum of $1, ignoring warnings, and damaged the thick clay cap sealing the waste dump while developing the land for urban expansion. Love Canal remains a seminal study in environmental chemistry, the first declared Federal Disaster Area due to man-made causes, and as the event that started the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund program for identifying and cleaning up industrial waste sites.

7. Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch

Image: Buffalo Readings

Growing where the currents of the ocean meet in a spinning swirl, the Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch is a soup of trash that has floated from all corners of the globe. The mostly plastic waste is the subject of tracking efforts and exploratory expeditions, but the topic of how to solve the problem meets with frustration. Large items -- like toothbrushes, bottles, and cigarette lighters -- which have not degraded can potentially be filtered, although the sheer volume of the patch makes this economically dreadful. But the broken-down particles of plastic, which pose a risk for the oceanic food chain, are too fine to remove by practicable filtration methods.

The lesson of the Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch: Out of sight is not out of mind. Actions on any part of our planet may affect every other part. For more sobering photos, check out the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Slideshow.

8. Mississippi Dead Zone

Image: NASA Images

It was a shocker when a U.C. Santa Barbara study revealed that the Mississippi delta is the world's dirtiest coastal ecosystem, worse than the Ganges or Mekong. The runoff from farms has lead to a persistent "dead zone" at the foot of America's mightiest river. The excessive algae blooms spurred by the extra nutrition in the runoff deplete all of the oxygen, resulting in die-out of the algae as well as all other marine life in the zone.

Here the lessons are still being learned. Scientists estimate a reduction of 45 percent of the nitrogen loading must be reduced to return the Mississippi delta to health. There are ways -- reducing fertilizer usage, planting winter crops that bind excess fertilizers before spring rains -- if there is a will.

More bad news: ocean dead zones are growing.

More on Man-Made Disasters:
Real World Half-Life: Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Still Harming Animals
Sharing our Humanity, the 20th Anniversary of Chernobyl
Video: Bad News and Trash Prevade Pacific Gyre
Shocker! World's Dirtiest Coastal Ecosystem Revealed...and It's in the USA
Looking at War and the Environment on the Anniversary of the Hiroshima Bombing
Greening the Military
Combat Vehicle Fuel Efficiency

Tags: Chemicals | Conservation | Pollution


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