The Biggest Man Made Disasters In History

By Juliet Smith 1 year ago

The Great Crash of Aberfan Colliery

Image Source/ Smithsonian Magazine
Not many man-made disasters have ever happened in Britain which makes the Aberfan colliery slip so drastic. A coal mine was developed in the area and by 1966, the community was surrounded by seven massive spoil piles. The seventh spoil pile collapsed after heavy rainfall and a crashed into the settlement at speeds between 11 and 21 miles per hour.

The Seveso Disaster

Image Source/ The PorPor Books Blog
This chemical factory catastrophe occurred in Italy when a chain reaction ruptured the reactor, releasing six tonnes of hazardous chemicals into the air. As a result, children were hospitalized with skin inflammations, hundreds of individuals had skin issues, and large regions were evacuated. Thousands of animals had to be killed.


Image Source/ Reauters
The Chernobyl explosion is definitely the most famous man-made disaster in history. When engineers performed an experiment to test the plant's systems, a power surge prevented them from shutting down nuclear reactors. One reactor's steam blew off the roof, exposing the nuclear core and releasing hazardous debris, killing 28 firefighters and workers. One of the costliest disasters ever, containment and cleanup are expected to last until 2065.

Asbestos Clouds In Montana

Image Source/ The Mesothelioma Center
Libby's vermiculite mine supplied 80% of the world's supply, however, vermiculite contains deadly asbestos. Eventually, approximately 10% of the town's inhabitants passed away from needless asbestos-related illnesses. In 2009, the US government declared an emergency in Libby to clean up the community after the mine closed in 1990.

The Big Spill of the Gulf War

Image Source/  C&EN 
Deepwater Horizon was victim of one of the most infamous man-made disasters. When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was digging an exploration oil well, methane gas from the underwater well expanded and erupted in the drilling rig, killing 11 people. A massive oil slick had spilled from the underwater well and spread, affecting 70,000 square miles of Gulf of Mexico ocean.

The Disaster of Bhopal

Image Source/ Down to Earth
In Bhopal, India, on December 2, 1984, safety systems failed, causing a massive pressure increase that released 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate into the sky. The facility was bordered by thick housing, thus almost 600,000 people were exposed to the lethal cloud. Thousands of innocent individuals died within hours from coughing, eye irritation, burns, dyspnea, and vomiting.

The Disoarjo Mud Volcano

Image Source/ Atlas Obscura
Sidoarjo has the world's largest mud volcano thanks to an energy company's gas explosion after an "apparent" earthquake 155 miles away. This Indonesian volcano is likely to be the only one generated by humans after a 10,000-foot borehole was made, causing water, steam, and gas to erupt from the ground nearby, which continued the next day.

North Pacific Garbage Patch

Image Source/ University of Colorado Boulder
Possibly one of the most prolific man-made disasters due to human negligence, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch caused decades of trash to enter the seas, running from California to Japan. Most of the plastic in the patch broke down into tiny particles and there may be much more below the surface.

Wildfires In California

Image Source/ Spectrum News
Considering climate change, I don't think any of us can be surprised that wild fires have become a global concern. In 2018 over 8,500 California fires damaged 24,000 buildings and two million acres, killing over 100 people. The government proclaimed a national catastrophe after July and August saw most California fires.

Chemical Plant Explosion In Jilin

Image Source/ Twitter
A petrochemical facility in Jilin exploded in November 2005, ordering the evacuation of 10,000 people. Even worse, the explosions dumped 110 tonnes of contaminants into the Songhua River, which supplies water to numerous large cities, forcing water to be transferred from unaffected cities for several days while water sources were cleaned up.

The Tennesse Coal Ash Spill

Image Source/ The New York Times
The Kingston Fossil Fuel Power Plant is where ash was combined with water and held in dredge cells. Poor management caused the combination to be kept on a hillside (not a good idea!) and in 2008 a heavy rainstorm weighed the slurry down and caused a catastrophic mud and ash avalanche.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Image Source/ Hakai Magazine
I think it's safe to say that we never learn from our mistakes! In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil ship hit Long Beach, California, and before the US government managed to respond, 119 thousand cubic metres of crude oil spilled into the sea, covering 2,100 miles of coastline and 28,000 square km of water.

The Guiyu E-Wate Dump

Image Source/ CNN
It's safe to say that man-made disasters happen all around the world. Take China for example. The world's largest e-waste landfill is China's Guiyu dump, filled with a massive array of electronics. The e-waste then seeps into the air, water and land, causing the area and rice-supply to become contaminated. Not good!

Deathly Cyanide Contamination of the Baia Mare Water

Image Source/ NBC News
Who thought gold could be this expensive! Gold cyanidation is the process of extracting gold from ore, causing cyanide-contaminated water. After a huge corporation shipped its trash to a dam near Bonitza Mare. wall burst due to poor management, incapability, or monitoring and 100 tonnes of cyanide hazardous water poured across nearby farmlands and into the Somes river.

The Great Smog of London

Image Source/ Encyclopedia Brittanica
Oh look, another British man-made disaster! Hit with a huge bout of coldness, coal heaters were used to heat dwellings in 1952's London. The overuse caused an anticyclone on top of the city that accumulated burning pollutants and smoke and formed a thick layer of pollution over the city. The city ignored it for four days but harmful haze affected everyone's lungs. It's thought that 400,000 people were affected.

The Man-made Minamata Disease

Image Source/ Magnum Photos
Humans actually created their own disease in Japan in the 90s. When fishermen and their families in Minamata Bay had strange neurological impairments, an outbreak was initially suspected. After the infected were quarantined and their dwellings cleaned, it was discovered that lead, mercury, manganese, arsenic, thallium, and copper were identified in Minamata Bay's waters, fish, and people for 34 years.

The Toxic Love Canal Landfill

Image Source/ Pinterest
Niagara Falls' Love Canal neighborhood was owned by Hooker Chemical, which buried dangerous waste there when landscaping began. When Niagara Falls needed land fast to build a school, they eventually built the school on top of the hazardous waste, causing birth deformities and odd illnesses.

The Fire Underground Centralia

Image Source/ National Geographic 
Next up on tragic man-made disasters is the Centralia fire. The problem started when five firemen set the dump on fire and let it burn in 1962. Because of the mine below, the fire never went out. It spread throughout the mine using unused coal. It reached Centralia and Byrnesville underground.

Opening the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan

Image Source/ Sky News
After being set on fire in 1971, the supposed Door To Hell still burns. When Soviet scientists drilled and excavated the rig, the ground gave way. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, escaped and made a massive crater. Workers burned it to prevent pollution given that burning gas eliminates most environmental hazards.

Aral Sea's Deathbed

Image Source/ Hyperallergenic
Once the fourh-largest sea, Aral Sea suffered a tragic death due to agriculture. USSR officials diverted the lake's two rivers with massive irrigation channels. The rivers were to flow back into the lake after passing through the desert but the channels were badly built, wasting up to 75% of water to the land instead of feeding the lake.

Dropping Hydrogen Bombs in Spain

Image Source/ ABC News
Spain didn't manage to keep their name of the list! In 1966, a bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed into a tanker over Spain while refuelling due to miscommunication. The nuclear weapons were discharged in the crash, hitting Palomares, a Spanish fishing hamlet. This was a fortunate event as they hadn't actually exploded!

The Case of Castle Bravo

Image Source/ The Nuclear Secret
Cue the largest America nuclear explosion, one thousand times stronger than Hiroshima. The bomb designers miscalculated and made it three times more powerful (ouch!). Detonated in the Marshall Islands, the explosion contaminated 20 thousand nearby islanders. Rongelap and Utrik Atoll were evacuated after three days of fallout exposure. Years later, they returned home to find their land poisoned and they couldn't stay.

The Three Mile Island Nuclear Explosion

Image Source/ The New York Times
USA, again?! On March 28, 1979, one of two US nuclear reactors partially melted down in the three mile island accident. The partial meltdown at the three-mile island nuclear power station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, was the worst commercial nuclear power plant accident in U.S. history.

Oil Fires of Kuwait

Image Source/ Bechtel
Oil fires, what are they good for?! It seems that oil has caused most man-made disasters on this list! As part of the scorched earth policy from the Iraqi soldiers, 600 oil wells were burned and 6 million barrels of oil lost. It cost $1.5 billion to put out flames that polluted the air and soil.

Amoco Cadiz

Image Source/ Environmental Justice Atlas
Well, we've heard some oil spills on this list, but none as big as this! The greatest oil spill in history occurred when a Liberian-flagged crude carrier split into three pieces and sank, spewing1,604,500 barrels of light crude oil and 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil. It killed the most marine life.

The Great Surfiside Condominium Collapse

Image Source/ Live Science
How about buildings collapsing? Definitely man-made! Champlain Towers South, a 12-story oceanfront condominium in Florida, collapsed in 2021 killing 98 people. It's thought that water penetration and corrosion of reinforcing steel in the parking garage caused long-term degradation of reinforced concrete structural support. That's a costly disaster!

The Flint Water Crisis

Image Source/ American Chemical Society 
How about a drinking water crisis? Michigan's drinking water was contaminated with lead and probably Legionella bacteria in 2014 after Flint switched their water to the Flint River because of budgets. Residents complained about water flavor, smell, and look. Lead from aged pipes leached into the water system, exposing 100,000 residents to excessive lead levels. Not good!

The Great Texas Grid Outage

Image Source/ CBC
Three severe winter storms in 2021 caused a significant power crisis in Texas. The storms caused Texas' biggest energy infrastructure breakdown, causing water, food, and heat shortages. How is this man-made? Well... data showed that failing to winterize wind turbines and natural gas infrastructure caused the system breakdown.

The Explosion of Port Beirut

Image Source/ VOANews
I think we all heard about this one! A massive amount of ammonium nitrate erupted in 2020, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and made 300,000 homeless. After being taken from an abandoned ship and the Lebanese authorities stored 2,750 tonnes of the chemical in a facility without sufficient safety procedures for six years. The warehouse fire preceded the explosion.

The 1991 LA Riots

Image Source/ NPR
Don't forget, riots are man-made disasters too! In 1992, LA experienced a series of riots and civil disturbances known as the Rodney King riots after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers charged with excessive force in Rodney King's detention and beating. Thousands of people subsequently rioted in different Los Angeles neighborhoods for six days after the ruling. By the time it ended, 63 people had lost their lives. 

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