10 Biggest Man-Made Disasters in the World

10 Biggest Man-Made Disasters in the World

For centuries, mankind has worked to advance the quality of life. Today, we have well built communities and developed countries because of these efforts. These accomplishments however, did not come easily. Some of these feats were accomplished with nature becoming the victim. Man considers himself as the alpha being on this planet but sometimes his incompetence and stupidity leads to a path of destruction. While natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis have caused severe destruction, so has mankind; with our unnatural experiments and wars. Here, we have gathered a list of 10 man-made disasters that were the most destructive in history.

1. The Tennessee Coal Ash Spill

The Tennessee Coal Ash Spill, environment, pollution, disaster, people, nature
Image: Wikimedia

The Kingston Fossil Fuel Power Plant in Tennessee produced fly coal ash as a by product of the coal combustion. Coal ash is dangerous and is known to cause major damages to the nervous system, kidney disease, hearing impairment, high blood pressure and even death. The ash which is filled with toxic metals and chemicals has to be contained or stored in a specific way to eliminate contamination. One method required the ash to be mixed with water and the mixture to be stored in dredge cells.

On December 22, 2008, due to poor management, the mixture was stored in dangerously high amounts on the slope of a hill. That particular day happened to be filled with powerful rain storms. The coal ash mixture gained weight when the rain poured down and the slurry mixture gave away from the soil; causing a major landslide of mud and ash. Landslides are known to cause severe damages to property and land but this particular one buried three hundred acres of land and houses with toxic materials. 675 million dollars of damage was caused by this as well as another 975 million was needed to clean up the slurry.

2. The North Pacific Garbage Patch

The North Pacific Garbage Patch
Image: Ray Boland, NOAA

In 1988, scientists predicted that the garbage being dumped into our oceans could cause marine animals to suffer gravely. Today, their predictions came true, since roughly 8.1% of the entire surface of the Pacific Ocean is covered in a mixture of toxic sludge, plastic, petrol and other waste. There is a unique marine phenomenon known as gyre, which is caused by currents in the ocean. Basically, it’s a vortex of trapped water which spins around forever because of neighboring currents spinning it from all sides.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, is filled with spinning debris. 70% of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean and plastics make up the majority of it. This debris can be very harmful to marine life in the gyre. To put things in perspective, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas. It is estimated that at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales are being killed each year because of mankind’s negligence.

3. Love Canal

Love Canal, New York, People, life, health
Image: NY Department of Health/Wikimedia

For decades, industries have been dumping toxic materials into rivers and lands; destroying the environment and causing health concerns. It wasn’t until 1978 that this issue was taken seriously. During the 1940’s, a chemical plant was secretly dumping industrial waste into an abandoned canal. In 1953, they covered the hazardous area with dirt and sold the land to a local school board for $1. The bill of sale included the details explaining what lays underneath the land and the dangers surrounding it.

Nonetheless, the school board went ahead and constructed a school right on top of the land. Two years later, when construction workers started connecting homes and businesses to the sewer system, the hazardous materials started seeping into the city. Residents suffered illness, miscarriages and other effects. By 1978, 56% of children born between 1974 and 1978 had birth defects. Love Canal was declared the first federal disaster area from man-made causes and residents were relocated by the federal government.

4. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Gulf Oil Spill, marine life, sea, ocean, drilling, oil
Image: Coast Guard

Also called Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the largest marine oil spill in history. On April 20, 2010, a surge of natural gas blasted through a concrete core and caused an underwater explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The explosion was so powerful that it claimed 11 lives and injured another 17. Two days after the explosion, the rig capsized and sank. Soon after the rig went to the bottom of the ocean floor, oil began to discharge into the gulf from the damaged well.

It is estimated that more than 60,000 barrels of oil was leaking into the ocean per day. The rig’s blowout preventer (BOP), a fail-safe mechanism designed to close the channel through which oil was drawn, malfunctioned. This caused an estimated 31.9 million barrels – over 130 million gallons – of oil to leak into the ocean and 87 days to contain the leak. Unfortunately, the damage to the Gulf of Mexico was already done since soon after the spill, fish, pelicans, and turtles started dying. The leak caused shrimp fisheries to close, affecting the economies of several countries along the Gulf Coast.

5. Fukushima Nuclear Accident

Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan, China, Asia
Image: Mainichi Shimbun/Wikipedia

On March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck Fukushima, claiming more than 18,000 lives and triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The earthquake caused the nuclear power plant cooling system to lose power and the emergency diesel generators were flooded by the tsunami. Just a day after the tsunami ravaged the city and displaced more than 300,000, the Fukushima power plant failed. When the cooling system shut down, it resulted in a nuclear meltdown of three of the plant’s nuclear reactors.

The series of explosions released radioactive materials into the air and the water. By July, most of the food and water sources had been contaminated; leaving people with limited access to them. Despite all this, the Japanese government worked at a fast pace to contain the leakage and limit people from exposure. In 2018, Japan acknowledged that a man in his 50’s, who worked at the nuclear plant twice during the meltdown had died from radiation exposure.

6. Three Mile Island Nuclear Disaster

Three Mile Island Nuclear Disaster
Image: Wikimedia

The Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant is located in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. On March 28, 1979, the largest nuclear power accident took place in the United States when a relief valve in reactor number 2 failed. This failure caused a partial nuclear core meltdown, spewing massive amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment.

The government of Pennsylvania assured the residents that the materials released into the atmosphere were not hazardous and that radiation levels were low. Just to be on the safe side, Pennsylvania Gov. Thornburgh evacuated pregnant women to a safer area. More than 2,400 residents filed class-action lawsuits due to death and diseases related to radioactive materials.

7. MV Doña Paz Maritime Disaster

MV Doña Paz Maritime Disaster
Image: Wikipedia

The MV Doña Paz, a Philippine-registered passenger ferry, is also known as Asia’s Titanic. On December 20, 1987, the ferry took off from Tacloban on Leyte Island towards Manila with 4,000 passengers. The 2,215-ton ferry was only designed to carry 1,200 passengers, but due to a high-demand (since it was during the Christmas season), the company allowed approximately 4,000 people to board.

By night, most of the ship’s officers were drinking and watching TV, leaving controls to an apprentice officer. As the ship was passing through the Tablas Strait, 110 miles south of Manila, so was a 629-ton tanker Victor, carrying 8,000 barrels of oil to Masbate Island. For reasons unknown, the ships collided, resulting in a huge explosion. Within minutes, both of the ships sank. Although the Don Eusebio, a rescue ship, arrived quickly, it was only able to find 24 survivors; half of them from the oil tanker. This makes it twice as deadly as the Titanic disaster and the worst maritime tragedy in history.

8. The Bhopal Gas Leak

The Bhopal Gas Leak, India
Image: Wikipedia

The Bhopal Gas Leak is considered as the world’s worst industrial disaster. The Union Carbide India Limited, a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, had been following dangerous practices for years and breaking safety regulations. The chemical plant, which was in poor condition, started leaking on December 2, 1984. The plant was surrounded by small towns with more than 600,000 people and none of them were aware of the leakage. Within 24 hours, the plant had leaked at least 30 tons of a highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate, as well as a number of other poisonous gases.

Since the gases released were heavy, they stayed close to the ground, causing victims throats and eyes to burn, inducing nausea, and many deaths. It is estimated that approximately 16,000 people died from the exposure and another 15,000 were killed over a period of 10 years. Today, more than 30 years after the incident, toxic materials are still present in the atmosphere surrounding the plant; causing birth defects.

9. The Tenerife Airport Disaster

KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736
Image: Wikipedia

The Tenerife Airport disaster is the deadliest aviation disaster in history. On March 27, 1977, KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736, two jumbo jets, collided with each other on the runway, claiming 583 lives. After a global threat, the two airliners were re-routed to the Canary Islands’ main airport in Las Palmas. The airliners were now on an infrequently-used runway and waiting for the tower to send the clear signal.

As the planes were waiting for the tower to respond, a dense fog descended, reducing visibility. Half an hour later, the tower informed KLM flight to taxi to the end of the runway and turn around, then instructed the Pan Am flight to follow. Once the KLM crew reached position, they announced that they were ready to go. The Pan Am heard the message, became startled and responded that they were still taxiing on the runway. Radio interference caused the message to not reach the KLM flight, who at this time thought they were clear for takeoff and rocketed down the runway.

Bob Bragg, the first officer of the Pan Am flight, saw the KLM flight heading straight towards them. He immediately steered the taxiing plane towards the left and the KLM pilots did their best to lift the plane off the ground. Although they were airborne, it wasn’t high enough; causing them to hit the Pan Am flight and burst into flames. Everyone aboard the KLM flight was killed but 61 people including crew members on the Pan Am flight, survived.

10. The Guiyu E-Waste Dump In China

E-waste, China, dump
Image: Flickr

The Guiyu dump in China is the biggest e-waste landfill in the world. Spanning 20 sq miles, or 52 sq. kilometers, the land is filled with iPhones, Galaxy S4s and every kind of electronic waste you can imagine. The dump is filled with more than 70% heavy metals; which makes its way into water sources.

Harmful materials such as potassium hydroxide leaks out of batteries over time; causing respiratory, eye and skin irritation to nearby residents. Another harmful material is lead, which made its way into the rice fields; causing widespread contamination in the country. Thousands are believed to be victims of lead poisoning and 54% of the children living in Guiyu have higher lead levels in their blood than those of the nearby towns. Soil samples from Guiyu also showed that it contained 371 times more lead and 115 times more copper than the rest of the country.

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