Thursday, November 1, 2012

Environmentality 24th October 2012

Dear Environmentality Listeners,

Jaime, Smokey and Sarah are exploring the top ten environmental disasters based from Time Magazine’s Time Lists.

Lets start from number ten…

10.  Three Mile Island

On March 28th 1979 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor partly melted down.  This disaster ignited fears surrounding the nuclear power industry.  Time magazine highlights that although this was known as one of America’s worst nuclear disasters, nothing really happened.  There were no fatalities and the operation is still producing nuclear power today.  Funnily enough, this disaster coincided with the release of the Jane Fonda movie “The China Syndrome”, which is a film that explores the nuclear power industry and the cover-ups of a nuclear power plant.

9.  Minamata Disease

Minimata is a town located on an island named Kyushu in Japan.  Over several years locals had witnessed unusual behaviour amongst animals, predominantly domestic cats.  Time magazine describes the felines would unexpectedly convulse and at times leap to their deaths into the ocean.  The residents referred to this phenomenon as “cat dancing disease”.  The first human who contracted Minamata disease was in 1956.  The symptoms of the disease encompassed convulsions, slurred speech, loss of motor functions and uncontrollable limb movements.  Upon exploration into the disease it was identified that it was a result of industrial poisoning of Minamata Bay by the plastic manufacturer Chisso Corperation, which in turn was one of the town’s largest employers.  In the wastewater pollution it was found to have large amounts of mercury and additional heavy metals, which found its way into fish and shellfish and in turn was a large component of the local diet.  As a result thousands of residents have experienced symptoms of the disease with some people dying as a consequence of the pollution.  There has been slow progress in receiving compensation for the local town people.

8.  Seveso Dioxin Cloud

In the Italian town of Seveso on the 10th July 1976 an explosion of a chemical plant discharged a thick white cloud of dioxin.  Dioxins are highly toxic by products of industrial activities, and are known to be environmental contaminants and can penetrate organinc matter such as humans, animals, soils and flora.  About a month after the dioxin cloud settled on Seveso Time Magazine had reported that a farmer had witnessed his cat die before his eyes, upon picking up his deceased cat its tail fell off.  When the cat was exhumed for investigation the only remains of the cat was its skull.  Approximately four days after the disaster humans began to feel symptoms from the poisoning as a result of the dioxin being released.  People started exhibiting nausea, blurred vision and, especially among children, the disfiguring sores of a skin disease known as chloracne. 

7.  The Aral Sea

The Aral Sea is located between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and is known for its “graveyard of ships”.  The once thriving Aral Sea was decimated after the 1960’s Soviet irrigation project resulting in the diversion of numerous source watercourses causing the formerly fourth largest lake on earth decreasing the Aral Sea to 90% of its earlier glory.  The area is now a desert that creates salt and sand storms that kill plant life and has damaging effects on Humans and animals alike.  The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon toured the area in April 2010 and witnessed the rusting former fishing trawlers and other vessels are now slowly rusting away in a new dessert that stretches for miles.  Ban Ki-Moon commented; "It is clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world. I was so shocked."

6.  Tokaimura Nuclear Plant

At the time, this was Japan’s worst nuclear disaster.  On the 30th September 1999 at the town of Tokaimura, three workers had incorrectly mixed a uranium solution resulting in a “blue flash”, one worker was knocked unconscious and the others were nauseated and their hands and faces were bright crimson.  While killing two of the workers hundreds of other people were exposed to several levels of radiation.

5.  The Exxon Valdez

The evening of the 24th March 1989 saw the oil tanker Exxon Valdez run aground on the Bligh Reef located in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.  10.8 million gallons of oil started spilling out into the unspoiled waters, ultimately distributing the oil across 500 miles across the coastline.  This oil slick killed and injured thousands of sea and land wildlife such as birds, otters, seals and fish.  At the time the Exxon Valdez incident was named the worst man made environmental disaster in U.S history.  Thousands of people organised to clean up the huge disaster. 

4.  Love Canal

The love Canal is located near America’s Niagara Falls in the state of New York.  Hundreds of residential dwellings and a school are located in the area and were built upon 21 000 tons of toxic waste.  In the 1940’s and 1950’s the industrial waste was buried by a local company and over several years the waste started “bubbling” up into backyards and basements.  By 1978 the issue was inescapable and the local residents sold off their properties to the federal government and left the area.  This disaster initiated the foundation of the Super Fund Program that assists the clean up of toxic waste locations.

3.  Kuwaiti Oil Fires

At the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War Saddam Hussein sent in his troops to blow up the Kuwaiti oil wells.  His theory was if he couldn’t benefit from the profits from the oil no one else can.  Roughly 600 wells were set alight and were burning for seven months, throughout this time black rain fell and lakes of oil were formed.  With the mix of oil, soot, sand and gravel this resulted in a layer of “tarcrete” hardening the surface of 5% of the country.  Thousand of wildlife and livestock perished as a result of the oil fires.

2.  Bhopal

The region of Bhopal, India was the recipient of an accident from the Union Carbide Pesticide Plant on the end of December 1984.  The accident released 45 tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate across the region resulting in thousands of deaths within hours, and around 15 000 over the next few months.  Over 500 000 people being affected by this disaster resulting in blindness, organ failure, awful bodily malfunctions and birth defects.  The corporation paid out half a billion dollars to the “victims” of the accident, with some people saying that this amount of money is not large enough to cover the cost of the decades long magnitude of the issue.

And now for number one...

1.     Chernobyl

In the town of Chernobyl in the Ukraine on the 26th April 1986 a reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had exploded.  The explosion caused a nuclear meltdown and propelled enormous amounts of radiation into the atmosphere, to put this into perspective, it was said that the fallout was larger than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incidents combined.  The radiation drifted across what was then Soviet Russia and toward Europe resulting in thousand of children becoming ill particularly with thyroid cancer.  Still to this day there is an off limits zone of a 20 mile radius from the plant. 

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