5 Of The Biggest Water Contamination Disasters In The World
Throughout history, there have been many disasters that have been man-made including water contamination disasters. These contaminants affect communities and wildlife for generations and can cause laws and legislation to be put in place to avoid further damage.
Below are some of the largest water contamination disasters the world has seen and how they came to be.
Taking place between 1957 and 1987, the Camp Lejeune marine corps had over 70 different chemicals contaminating their drinking water supply. This included benzene which is known to cause various types of cancer and ALS.
Initially, base officials tried to hide the knowledge of dangerous chemicals in the water and it wasn’t until 1999 that the residents were told about the contamination.
In the mid to late 1970s, the town of Woburn became concerned with the large number of childhood leukemia cases they have when compared to other towns. This led to the discovery of the contamination of 2 wells in 1979.
Two companies (a chemical business and a food processing company) were found to be improperly disposing of their waste and contaminated the water with trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene.
In a controversial court decision, one company was acquitted and the other only had to pay $8 million, a third of which went to court fees.
In 2014, the town of Flint in Michigan began experiencing badly tasting, smelling, and looking like water. Shortly before this, the town moved its water source from the Detroit water treatment site to the Flint River. This was due to a budget crisis and no corrosion inhibitors were added to the water during this change. The lack of inhibitors led the pipes to leach into the water.
This led to up to 12,000 children being exposed to lead as the pipes were damaged. They did switch the water supply back, but the damage to the water supply was already done. It wasn’t until 2017 that the pipes began to be fixed. As of 2021, over 10,000 pipes have been replaced.
Known as Britain’s worst mass poisoning event, in 1998 around 20 tonnes of aluminum sulfate was deposited into Camelford’s water supply. This aluminum sulfate produced sulphuric acid which stripped the insides of pipes.
Immediately after the contamination, the water authority said that the water was safe to drink and advised people to mix the juice with it to disguise the taste. The public was not made aware of the poisoning until 16 days later.
There were short-term effects like vomiting, skin blisters, and joint pains. While there were long-term effects reported like fibromyalgia and premature aging, there have been no rigorous examinations of the health of the victims. They did find that people who died years later, had large levels of aluminum in the brain,
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. This led the oil tanks to spill 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean over the next couple of days.
Due to the remote location, the response plans were hard to implement. One of the first clean-up responses was the use of a chemical dispersant being spread via helicopter. The helicopter missed the oil spill, and local groups and conservation organizations were hesitant about the use of extra chemicals. Apparently, the dispersant caused health problems for the clean-up crew.
In the first 24 hours, only about 10% of the oil was completely cleaned up. The cleaning process went on for another 4 years before it was abandoned.
There were huge short and long-term effects of the oil spill. The general local marine population dropped after the spill and so did the tourism to the local town.
This event led to the creation of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. This prohibited vessels that have spilled over 1 million gallons of oil from operating in the Prince William Sound to avoid further contamination.
Each of these events has caused either legal or social change. Through the creation of laws to prevent further contamination or the global knowledge of the circumstances, some people are living.
While these are man-made disasters, they are not always controllable. It is the actions that happen after the contamination that defines how large of a disaster it is.