10 Deadly Disasters That Caused Mass Pollution

Why do you think the water is red in this feature image? Jian River, China is suffering from mass pollution of water in the current period due to destruction catalyst of disasters, Climate Change.

In history, several disasters have occurred naturally, while most of them were the cause of anthropogenic-induced activities.

In this 21st century, with the establishment of the scientific era and advanced technology development, natural disasters are frequent. 

Whether they entail water, air, or forest resources, natural disasters lead to mass pollution, thereby deteriorating the environment on a larger scale. Below mentioned are the ten deadly disasters that have occurred, causing mass pollution.

1. Bhopal Gas leak/Bhopal Gas tragedy of India

It is inferred as one of the most dangerous and damaging industrial accidents in the world’s history. 

On December 3 of 1984, it released a cloud of toxic methyl isocyanate gas heavily in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, from the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant. 

The poisonous gas was released at a larger scale and covered all the city, causing mass pollution. Since the exposed gases are toxic, it could undoubtedly affect the respiratory system of the victims and the people who reside near the exposed regions.

It undoubtedly affects the environment through the spreading of toxic gases everywhere. 

Since it was a poisonous gas, resulting in vomiting, burning in the respiratory tract, and suffocating the people who survived the accident. Many people got hospitalized. 

Over 500,000 people got exposed to methyl isocyanate gas, and roughly 15000 Bhopal residents were killed. 

Thousands of people became handicapped and went through memory loss, blindness, organ failure, and much more. During the incident, dogs, cats, and domestic animals lined up in the street. 

Even to this date, the site where such an incident occurred remains highly contaminated, and recently, Dow chemical company has been running it. 

The fundamental cause behind this incident is still in controversy today. But the long-term investigation believes that decaying and under-maintenance of the machinery appliances and the unsafe handling of the gas and its products with under-trained employees could be the critical reason for this massive disaster.

2. Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Mass pollution from 2010 oil spill, Gulf of Mexico | Picture Credit: The Verge

A massive oil spill disaster occurred on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico nearby Venice, Louisiana. During the incident, 11 workers were found dead. 

In more than 87 days, approximately 3.9 million barrels of oil spilled in the area. It is regarded as one of the largest marine and worst oil spills.

A study of 2012 reveals that there is still leakage in the site. Due to the long-term persistence of the oil, it was a very tedious task to clean up the beach and the sea. 

The clean-up team started massive actions to protect the ocean from spreading oil to several areas. It requires attention from all the stakeholders in the cleaning campaign of the oil spills. 

The oil once spills in the water do degrade the water quality. It leads to chemical and water pollution

Since the oil is produced using multiple chemicals, it deteriorates the water quality and hampers recreation purposes.

3. Kuwaiti oil fires

Kuwaiti Oil fire mass pollution restoration | Picture Credit: Bechtel

In 1991 there was oil soiling in the Persian Gulf in a very massive quantity. Through the instigation by the Iraqi forces, the critical cause of this manufactured disaster was the sinking of the two oil tankers

The opening of the oil valves of the pipeline releases oil from multiple tankers.

Since the goal of spilling the oil was to impede the United States troops from landing on the beach in the war, unfortunately, they dumped the oil in the Persian Gulf with more than 240 million gallons of crude oil. 

Spilling the oil in such a more significant quantity could undoubtedly create mass water pollution, affecting aquatic living creatures. There will be difficulty in the breathing system of the animals. 

It could alter the amount of Dissolved Oxygen and the Biological Oxygen Demand for the fish species. 

The breeding and the feeding pattern of the aquatic living organisms get hugely hampered when there are oil spills in the water resources at an extensive level. 

The coastline remained inhabitable, and biodiversity loss occurred at the larger spatial scales.

The Iraqi military forces set the fire once they withdrew from Kuwait. Besides this, they set the fire in over 700 oil wells and storage tanks in Kuwait. 

It seems that this action was on the onset to take revenge on Kuwait by Iraqi forces. The investigation reveals that the fire was out of control since sending its crew to such horrible areas during wartime was dangerous.

Prediction showed that the fires could make clouds in the atmosphere and reduce the temperature by 5 to 10 degrees Celsius within three months. 

The smoke particles rose to 20000 feet. It possesses heavy air pollution from the smoke that may impact the respiratory tract and eye diseases.

4. Dust Bowl in Canada and United States

Mass pollution of Dustbowl in US | Picture Credit: NDMC

Around World War I, in the southern Great Plains of the United States and some parts of Canada, there replaced the native grasses in the prairies with the deep plowing of the topsoil. 

But unfortunately, the prolonged drought in the 1930s led to degraded soil quality. Later on, the nutrient-poor soil blew up, converting the ground into dust clouds, affecting the entire landscape. 

The dust particles that emerged during such a disaster affected the people’s lungs, with severe problems in the respiratory tract. 

Thousands of the people were sickened. Thousands of wildlife were devastated on the ground. It was the most significant dust storm in the historical event all across the globe.

The long-term failure in the dryland farming method and the drought are crucial impacts of this disaster. 

The dust is very harmful to every creature. It accumulates a large number of dust particles in the atmosphere.

According to the study, the drought and the erosion, which had even covered several countries, heavily impacted 400,000 lands, including New Mexico and Colorado.

The dust bowl areas are semiarid and prone to natural disasters such as drought and extensive erosion. 

Since the water deficit could not support the vegetation that fulfilled the poor livelihoods, thousands of families were displaced.

By the end of the 1930s, roughly 75 % of the topsoil was blown away, thereby possessing a long-term economic hamper to the communities affected by such drastic disasters in Canada and the United States. 

Around one-third of the people fled to the Southern plains to have greener pastures. Once the dust particles get absorbed by the air pollutants, it could drastically alter air quality and cause massive air pollution.

5. The pacific garbage patch

Enormous plastic garbage patch causing mass pollution | Image Credit: Phys.org

In the historical record, it is the largest accumulation of plastic waste in the ocean situated between Hawaii and California, in the central North of the Pacific Ocean. 

According to the estimation, it covered an area of 1.6 million, an area twice Texas or three times the size of France.

It reflects the actual scenario of how plastic waste has been a burden and a challenging issue in water resources and environmental conservation. 

The primary source of the debris and the plastics that flow in the Pacific Ocean is the primary source from the six Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, China, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

These countries should seek current attention in this matter. It influences marine water quality, threatens the survival of marine organisms, and degrades the aquatic environment since plastics are sources that lead to carcinogenicity. 

The study revealed the accumulation of roughly 80,000 tons of plastic in the ocean. Most troublingly, in total, 1.8 trillion plastics were predicted to be floating in the patch. 

Since there is around 80 % of the garbage emitted from the land, the patch’s depth and amount remain to alter continuously.

It had seriously affected the water quality principally on California’s coast. The people visualized the garbage accumulation more in 2015 and 2016 than in the past, insisted by Ocean Cleanup organized by the Dutch-based organization. 

Long-term waste piling in the same region has detrimental effects, harming the land surface, groundwaters, and water resources such as lakes, seas, and oceans. 

6. Chernobyl nuclear accident of Ukraine

On April 26, 1986, a petrified disaster occurred in Ukraine, Russia. There was a massive explosion of the reactors during the turbine test. 

In turn, it led to the spreading of the heavy radioactive material in the atmosphere at the larger spatial scales. It resulted in 31 deaths, as per the Soviet authorities. 

Multiple company employees have suffered a heart attack, acute radiation syndrome, and many more.

Chernobyl is so dangerous that it could lead to thyroid and other cancer once it is exposed for a prolonged period. 

The later investigations recorded around 4000 deaths. Since it is one of the disasters of the explosion of harmful radiation, it has impacted around million hectares and 4.7 billion of property. 

It is predicted that a million lands from the incident area are unsafe for any agricultural production. Even today, the region is supposed to be unfit for any sector.

The thousands of residents entailing 3,50,000 people were evacuated from these areas.

The site looks pretty harmful since there was an explosion of radiation leading to nuclear pollution in the atmosphere for a prolonged period.

Even today, traces of radioactive materials are recorded in almost all nations, basically in the northern hemisphere. 

It indicates how severely the lands, people, and the whole community were devastated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine, Russia.

7. The Great Smog in London

London fog 1952 mass pollution | Image Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

On December 5-9 in 1952, the smog had covered the whole city of London, England, continually for five days. 

The primary cause of this disaster in London was industrial pollution and pressure-related weather conditions. The combination of smog and fog had devastated thousands of human lives. 

Densely covered and yellowish appearance smog was estimated to arise from the massive burning of the coal in several industrial areas. 

The pollution was present heavily, so it impaired the visibility. The whole region was covered by harmful dust particles, which could seriously hamper the health of living creatures. 

This disaster occurred at the larger spatial scales. Thus, it took public concern all over the globe. The carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere due to coal combustion polluted the air and led to mass pollution. 

The situation was worse because it could not even release the factories’ emissions into the atmosphere. 

It has too created detrimental effects in the living existence. The Great Smog in London massively contributes to the mass air pollution. 

8. Three miles Island Disaster

The Three Miles Island power plant is in Pennsylvania in the United States, consisting of two pressurized water reactors. 

The significant reason behind the explosion of the radioactive gases on March 28, 1979, was malfunctioning in the cooling circuit, causing the core to melt at 97 % power.

Within a couple of days, the radioactive radiation initiated to be released in the area with the resident coverage. 

Several aspects have boosted this incident, which entails insufficient emergency response, a lack of control room, and much more.

Although there was no human fatality and adverse health effects in the history of nuclear power, it is inferred as a dangerous disaster in the historical movement. 

Radioactive materials are very harmful since they may cause carcinogenic-induced diseases for a prolonged period. Radiation exposure seems devastating from a health perspective.

The deposition of the radioactive piece in the atmosphere could alter the atmosphere, thereby creating detrimental impacts on the air quality, which causes massive air pollution.

9. Minamata disaster of Japan

In the 1950s, the residents in southern Japan visualized some unexpected behavior in the animals and themselves leading to water contamination. 

For instance: the human-faced difficulty in speaking, muscle weakness, hearing damage, impacts in the central nervous system, and buttoning their clothes’ buttons. 

Additionally, the cats would foam from their mouth and increase the fish’s belly. Initially, the cause of this disaster was unknown for a long time. Even their corpse turned into contributors to mass pollution.

But in 1959, Chisso corporations, one of the chemical companies hiring numerous employees, used to dump the methyl mercury in the sea from the industrial wastewater without a pre-treatment facility. 

The mercury had poisoned many fishes and other aquatic organisms. When people ate seafood, such as the local fishes, they suffered mercury infection. 

Thus, the disease was named the Minamata disease. The condition is caused by mercury poisoning. Until 1968, the company had continued discharging the mercury in the seawater.

The study documented around 2000 deaths due to this disaster. It caused paralysis, congenital disabilities, and disorders severely.

10. Ok Tedi in Papua New Guinea

Ok Tedi mines transforming mass pollution in river water | Picture Credit: Australian Mining

It is one of the most severe human-caused environmental disasters in history. This disaster was caused by the discharge of about two billion tons of mining wastes into the Ok Tedi river without effective pre-treatment

Besides this, the collapse of the Ok Tedi dam system in 1984 has caused mining pollution for many years. This environmental disaster highly evacuated nearly 30,000 people.

In this disaster, the large volume of wastes piled up hampered the entire community with the mass water pollution.

On the other hand, it had devastating consequences such as deterioration of the river quality persisting for an extended period. 

Since the mining wastes possess adverse outcomes if not treated well, it might reflect the severe health impacts and mass pollution to the surroundings.

Conclusion

Environmental disasters have become one of the dire issues and elevated as a public concern today. 

We could not halt the processed natural disasters but undoubtedly could work for the unnatural disasters.

Until and unless people know their environment, it’s sure to detect such environmental disasters in the coming days. 

That is why it becomes our responsibility to protect the mother planet. For this, awareness among the people looks pretty substantial to gain success in alleviating such disasters before it strikes us.

Kalpana Ghimire

Kalpana Ghimire holds a post-graduate degree in Environmental Science from Nepal. She possesses numerous research experiences working in water pollution, community forestry, environment conservation status, and wildlife ecology. She was an internee in the Department of Environment (EIA monitoring and auditing section) under the Government of Nepal. Kalpana Ghimire is an avid traveler, an enthusiastic wildlife researcher, and has a huge passion for working in the environment sector. She loves far traveling to the natural areas, conducting field wildlife research and reading the novels.
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