Tornados can turn towns inside out, and earthquakes tumble cities. But sometimes humans are the ones who cause the biggest havoc to the planet. We must take great care to protect our delicate planet, especially as technology increases our consumption energy and chemicals. We put together a list of the 10 most devastating events caused by humans that we should never repeat.
The Three Mile Island Nuclear Explosion
A partial meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979. A series of poor choices made by the power plant workers caused 60% of the core to melt. During the partial meltdown, radioactive gasses that accumulated in the core leaked out into the atmosphere. Citizens living around Three Mile Island were also evacuated due to fear of a possible hydrogen bubble explosion. Fortunately, there was no oxygen in the containment building for the hydrogen to react with, and workers slowly vented the gas out of the building without incident.
The Great Smog of 1952
A thick layer of smog hung over the city of London for 5 days in winter of 1952 due to residents burning coal to keep warm. Because of the windless conditions, the smog was trapped hanging over the city and left London in near darkness. Unfortunately, over 12,000 people died because of the toxic smog cloud.
The Great American Dust Bowl
Americans endured many hardships during the 1930s – the Great Depression comes quickly to mind – but one of the worst tragedies of the time was the Dust Bowl. This disaster was due to complete negligence by humans. Farmers plowed fertile soil to the point of dust because it was believed that very fine soil was best for seeding. Then in 1930, the southwestern Great Plains were struck with an intense drought. The land was laid bare, and as winds picked up the dust rose and giant dust clouds covered 19 states. Millions of people had to leave their farms, and many moved west to work as migrant farm workers for other land owners.
Jilin Chemical Plant Explosion
100 tons of toxic substances spewed into the Songhua River in China due to a chemical plant explosion on November 13, 2005. Chinese authorities stated that the explosion was caused by poor operations by plant workers. More than 10,000 people had to evacuate the Jilin City. Worst still is that the Songhua River was a source of drinking water for cities within the Jilin Province. Millions of liters of drinking water had to be shipped into cities.
Photo by Tormod Sandtorv – Flickr: Darvasa gas crater panorama, CC BY-SA 2.0,
The Derweze “Door to Hell”
This giant, burning methane gas reservoir in Derweze, Turkmenistan is 255 feet wide and 99 feet deep. The gas store was exposed by a drilling rig, and in 1979 Soviet scientist lit the crater afire in an attempt to burn off the gas. In 2013 explorer and storm chaser George Kourounis was the first person to ever descend into the fire breathing crater. His aim was to collect samples of the crater’s soil to examine if life can live in such harsh conditions. Unfortunately, scientist have not been able to determine how much methane gas is inside the reservoir and they have no estimate as to when the fire will burn out.
Poison in Minamata Bay
This man-made disaster is so severe that a disease was named after the city that it was discovered in. The Chisso Corporation in Japan was dumping industrial wastewater into the coastal waters of Minamata city. The wastewater had high concentrations of mercury, which polluted the food chain. Residents soon became extremely sick with mercury poisoning, and doctors named the condition Minamata disease.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
We tend to think of litter as trash that collects on our streets and driveways. But litter is also in our oceans. Circular currents in the Pacific Ocean collect waste like plastics, fishing nets, and chemicals into an extremely large area that covers about 7 million square miles. Tragically, marine animals are most affected by the garbage patch. Many become entangled in the discarded fishing nets, and birds eat floating pieces of plastic.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
The Exxon Valdez oil tanker crashed into the Bligh Reef in Alaska on March 24, 1989. Over 500 miles of coastline were polluted with 11 million gallons of crude oil. Hundreds of thousands of fish and wildlife were tragically affected, and many beaches are still polluted with oil settling inches below the surface.
Deepwater Horizon (BP) Oil Spill
Also known as the BP Oil Spill, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, resulting in the worst marine oil spill in history. It is estimated that 4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico – 19 times more oil than the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Although visitors are returning to the beaches, the environmental impact of the spill still remains. Oil is settling on the bottom of the ocean floor and tar balls can still be found on the beaches.
Catastrophe at Chernobyl
In 1986, Ukraine experienced one of the worst man-made tragedies in history when the Chernobyl power plant experienced a nuclear meltdown. Workers at Chernobyl performed a stress test, and deliberately turned off safety systems. Reactor number 4 exploded, releasing large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere and contaminated large areas of Northern and Eastern Europe. Residents living in and around Chernobyl were evacuated, but their exposure to the radiation left many sick, and many children of the affected were born with serious birth defects and tumors.