Men are full of activities. Both in a bid to survive and in pursuance of more comfort. In order to achieve this, man has interacted with nature over the centuries to produce advanced ways of living. Some of which have in turn hurt nature (humans, wildlife, and the environment) and that is what this article is all about – environmental disasters caused by humans. It doesn’t matter whether it is intentional or not. Enjoy your read.
However, some of these activities have produced disasters for the environment with far-reaching and long-lasting effects. Natural disasters also happen but some of the deadliest disasters recorded have been anthropogenic disasters (environmental disasters caused by human activities).
In this article, we will be discussing 9 environmental disasters caused by humans (even though they are more, we can’t exhaust the list on this post alone), and the present human activities that are likely to lead to future environmental disasters but, let’s look at the definition of an environmental disaster.
What is an Environmental Disaster?
An environmental disaster is any catastrophe that does significant damage to the natural environment, caused by humans and their activities. This point ‘human’ distinguishes environmental disasters from natural disasters. Environmental disasters show how the impact of humans’ interaction with nature has led to hazards. Environmental disasters caused by humans have led to disruptions and deaths of animals, humans and plants, and lands, and have upset the ecological systems with extinctions.
9 Deadly Environmental Disasters Caused By Humans
Here is the list of 9 environmental disasters caused by humans:
- London’s killer fog
- Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Explosion
- Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
- Vietnam Ecocide
- Electronic Waste in Guiyu, China
- Bhopal Gas Disaster
- Guisangaun Rock Collapse
- Gulf of Mexico dead-zone
- Minimata Bay Mercury Poisoning
1. London’s Killer Fog
One of the prominent and scariest environmental disasters caused by humans is the London killer fog. In December, the winter of 1952, London experienced a fog that was believed to have been caused by London’s massive consumption of coal. This major metropolitan city relied on coal for energy and by 1952, the pollution became disastrous. Also, London’s 1952 winter was very cold, and Londoners burnt more coal.
Consequently, pollutants were constantly released into the atmosphere and heavily polluted the air. The accumulation of the excess smoke, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and soot-covered the entire city of London in a black cloud with near darkness. This led to breathing problems and near loss of visibility, causing as many as 16,000 deaths through sickness and transport accidents. This fog was named “smog” by a Londoner – a humorous combination of the words “fog” and “smoke”.
2. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Explosion
On April 26, 1986, a nuclear facility at Chernobyl, Ukraine experienced an accident in its nuclear facility as a result of the sudden shutdown of its reactors. As a result of this, there was an explosion that released a high amount of chemical substances into the environment and fire.
This disaster expelled more than 400 times the radiation released during the Hiroshima bombing. This environmental disaster was so deadly that the radiation spread to Belarus, and the British Isles causing thousands of cancer deaths.
The radiation level at the site still remains high and the amount of nuclear materials buried under the debris remains unknown.
3. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was one of the most hazardous environmental disasters by humans ever recorded. On March 24, 1989, an Exxon Valdez oil tanker collided with a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. This created a hollow 15 feet deep in the tanker. This hole released 11 million US gallons of oil into the water.
Severe immediate environmental impact was recorded- over 300 harbour seals, 22 orcas, 2,000 otters, more than 200 bald eagles, and a quarter-million seabirds were killed. In a 2001 Federal survey of the site, it was found that more than 50% of the beaches in the area were still contaminated by oil, either directly on or under them. In fact, 33 years after the spill, oil can still be seen on the shoreline despite much investment in the cleanup.
4. The Vietnam Ecocide
Many people won’t want to admit it to save public face but the Vietnam Ecocide is amongst the worst environmental disasters caused by humans.
The term ecocide originated as a result of the war against Vietnam (1961-1975). This means that the natural environment is destroyed intentionally. During the war, from 1961-to 1971, the US military sprayed various herbicides from aircraft, trucks and hand sprayers over Vietnam. This was in a bid to destroy the forest cover and food crops of the enemy.
This led to the destruction of its forests, ecosystem and soil affecting over 90 million acres of forest. The ecosystem also suffered horrendously. Animals, both rare and endangered species either migrated or died, after being sprayed with defoliants, the trees dropped their leaves remaining bare for decades, and microbes and plants died.
Erosion and flooding disturbed the land because of the plant roots and forest canopies against rain and direct sunlight. The environment became so affected that growing trees was futile; the soil became muddy, lacking nutrients. The most appropriate term for this environmental disaster by humans can be the turning of “land the size of a small country into a pesticide desert”
5. Electronic Waste in Guiyu
Guiyu, China has the world’s largest electronic dumping site. The workers use recycling methods that are dangerous and harmful to the environment and human health.
They use corrosive acid baths along the riverbanks to extract valuable materials such as copper and gold from the electronics. They also wash out printer cartridges in the river making the water contaminated and too polluted for consumption. Sometimes, they burn the waste, also polluting the environment.
This has in turn affected the dwellers with miscarriages and about 80% of the children in the area suffer from lead poisoning.
6. The Bhopal Disaster
On 2, December 1924, a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India accidentally leaked 45 tons of pesticide gas into the environment. Considered one of the most deadly environmental disasters caused by man, the gas, Isocyanate, quickly spread over the populated city creating fog over the city.
According to the investigation, substandard operating and safety procedures and understaffing led to this disaster. This directly caused the death of 50,000 people and about 15,000 to 20,000 over the following years. A minimum of 500000 people also sustained lifelong injuries including respiratory problems.
It was reported that there had been early warning signs just a couple of years earlier in 1981 when one of the workers was sprayed with phosgene while carrying out routine maintenance on one of the pipes in the gas plant, the worker panicked and removed his gas mask (bad mistake) which led to his death 3 days later. It was this accident that led to journalist Rajkumar Keswani publishing an article in Bhopal’s local paper Rapat titled “wake up, people of Bhopal, you are on the edge of a volcano“
7. The Guisaugon Rock Avalanche
In February 2006, piles of rocks and sand came crashing down upon the village valley of Guisaugon, South Bernard in the province of the Philippines burying the village and over 250 of its dwellers. This happened after a week of heavy downpour and an earthquake. It killed thousands of people. Over 1500 are still not discovered. This was a result of constant and unregulated mining around the valley.
One of the most touching tragedies during this major disaster was a primary school located close to the mountain that was completely buried during the landslide, school was still in session when the disaster occurred, hence, virtually all the children and teachers were swallowed under the crashing heaps of rocks. It was reported that 246 children and 7 teachers were victims of that carnage that very day as only one child and one adult were rescued from the landslide immediately after the tragedic occurrence.
Rescuers had a very challenging time trying to salvage anyone they could as the rain wouldn’t seize, making all efforts more difficult. Little wonder why this accident made it to the list of 9 deadly environmental disasters caused by humans.
8. Gulf of Mexico Dead-zone
This is an area of low oxygen that can kill fish and marine life, located near the sea bottom. It is caused by the mass dumping of phosphorous and nitrogen waste in the Mississippi River, and areas such as the Gulf of Mexico have been contaminated. Frequently, hundreds of dead fishes are found floating on the river. Even plants in the area are endangered and cannot survive.
Dead zones are caused by a wash-off of fertilizers including nitrogen and phosphorous chemicals around farming states and cities.
Because of the lack of oxygen in the gulf, it is almost impossible for marine life to survive, in financial terms, this disaster costs about $82 million that would have been seafood animals, thereby making it more difficult for fishers to catch fish as they have to go further into the river and also spend more resources. This is definitely one of the major environmental disasters caused by humans. Imagine a life where there is no sea food… unimaginable.
9. Minamata Bay Mercury Poisoning
Minamata is a small town on the coast of the Shiranui Sea. Because of its location, the dwellers are fishermen and the people of the town eat a lot of fish – a harmless habit that became the source of thousands of disease cases and lots of deaths.
It turned out that a large petrochemical plant in Minimata owned by Chisso corporation was dumping mercury into Minamata bay From 1932 and over the next 36 years, The Chinese company, ‘Chisso corporation’ relentlessly released tons of deadly industrial wastewater into the sea around Minamata. It was discovered later that Chisso Corporation had dumped a total of 27 tonnes of mercury compound in the water body – Minamata bay
This waste highly contained mercury and contaminated the fish, and entered the food chain. This made many of the dwellers to be infected with a disease discovered to be Minamata disease (with symptoms of convulsion, coma, blindness and deafness). As a result of this, over 1700 people have died to date.
This is regarded as one of the most popular environmental disasters caused by humans even though the Japanese government and Chisso corporation were finally coerced into cleaning up the bay which consumed millions through the span of 1977 to 1990.
This is not utterly bad as a remedy was provided for the bay and its inhabitants.
Our planet is large and strong. It is ancient and has many abilities but it also needs our protection. If humans do not acknowledge this reality, many of our activities will continue to endanger the environment and the entire planet.
If we dispose of waste properly, reduce our emission of chemicals into the environment, and regulate our consumption of natural resources, environmental disasters are sure to occur less frequently.
The job of humans naturally is to tend to and protect the environment around us, but in reality, the opposite is the case as we see in this informative article where we listed 9 deadly environmental disasters caused by humans.
Environmental Disasters Caused By Humans – FAQs
What is the biggest/worst Environmental Disaster Caused by Humans?
The explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia in 1986 could be termed the most deadly environmental disaster caused by humans. It started with engineers performing an experiment to determine if the plant’s emergency water cooling would work during a power outage. During the operation, there was a power surge and engineers couldn’t shut down Chernobyl’s nuclear reactors. Steam built up in one reactor, the roof blew off and the core became exposed. Because the core exploded violently, a large amount of plutonium was forcefully released and as a result, “more fission products were released from the single Chernobyl core”- Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists Nuclear Safety. This released a high amount of chemical substances into the environment. It went beyond damaging the nearby environment to as far as Belarus 16 kilometres away, the British Isles and other parts of the USSR. In the following years, thousands of people died as a result of exposure to radiation. Thousands died from radiation disease, and thousands of others died from cancer. The initial emergency response, and subsequent decontamination of the environment, involved more than 500,000 personnel and cost roughly US$68 billion in 2019. In fact, it’s estimated that containment and clean-up efforts will continue until 2065 making it one of the most expensive environmental disasters. This accident was rated the most severe nuclear event internationally. To date, the total number of deaths from exposure to radiation remains uncertain.
What are some of the Activities today that can lead to Environmental Disasters?
Many human activities have a direct and lasting impact on the environment. Some of these activities are causing changes in global weather patterns, leading to an increase in natural disasters like floods and wildfires. Today, we're going to look at 5 problematic human activities today that could lead to future environmental disasters. Deforestation Because the world population is increasing and the constantly increasing population needs more resources. Therefore, the number of trees to be cut increases. The unchecked cutting of trees in many countries around the world can have a severe impact on the environment. These trees provide canopies for the soil during rainfall and their roots hold the soil together preventing flooding and erosion. Continuous deforestation increases the risk of flooding, erosion and drought. Burning fossil fuels is Rated as one of the most deadly activities that can cause an environmental disaster, burning fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide and methane into the environment. Both are greenhouse gases that warm the Earth’s surface. This is a natural process. When energy from the Sun reaches the earth, some of it is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases. This is done to keep the earth warm. So, if there is more greenhouse emission and activity, there will be more heat trapped in the earth. This in turn will alter the weather and cause climate change. In 2009, NASA reported that The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasted a temperature increase of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. If this continues, it will cause climate change, droughts, heatwaves, desertification, forest fires, and even hurricanes. Manufacturing activities Industrialization, on one hand, provides employment opportunities and wealth generation while on another hand it leads to environmental deterioration. This activity of industrial actions increase the risk of depletion of natural resources, air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution, global warming, climate changes, acid rain, and generation of hazardous waste. Wrong waste disposal In recent years, many countries, especially developing countries have seen an increase in wrong waste disposal. Tons of waste is dumped in landfills or into the water. As a result of this, there are tons of plastics in the ocean posing a threat to sea animals. And many have already died because of the many plastics in the sea, and the disposal of waste into waterways by factories. The negligence of proper recycling and proper waste disposal will lead to water pollution, air pollution and inevitably, global warming. You can find solutions to proper waste disposal. Bomb testing Bomb tests release deadly substances into the air that can cause environmental disasters. Previous bomb testing over the years has affected agriculture, land, air, rivers, lakes and underground waters as well as the food chain and public health. And continuous actions along the same line can lead to earthquakes, tsunamis, air pollution and depletion of animal and plant life.
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Precious Okafor is a digital marketer and online entrepreneur that got into the online space in 2017 and since then have developed skills in content creation, copywriting and online marketing. He is also a Green activist and hence his role in publishing articles for EnvironmentGo